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TN State Prison proposed as tourist destination

Nashville Councilwoman Mary Carolyn Roberts is pushing the idea of turning the old Tennessee State Prison, built in 1898 and closed in 1992, into a tourist attraction, reports The Tennessean. Roberts, who led local officials on a tour of the prison recently, would like to see the state give Metro Nashville the prison, allowing partnership with a private company for renovation and development.

As a model for what she has in mind, Roberts points to the former Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Morgan County in East Tennessee, which is now slated to become a new tourist destination, anchored by a moonshine distillery with a museum, prison tours, an RV park and music festival. Its transformation began with the state transferring the property to Morgan County before the privately led Brushy Mountain Group signed on as the developer.

She believes a similar project could work here — perhaps an artist co-op to feed Nashville’s thriving creative class — if a new entity can take over ownership of the prison.

“It just makes so much sense to utilize this,” Roberts said. “There are places like Brushy Mountain that are actually using their prison as tours and for all kinds of different things. I just think it would be a real shame if we look up and we don’t do something to save it.

“It’s just a gem waiting,” she said, arguing that if the state were interested in preserving the prison it would have done so by now. “I’m hoping that we can turn it into something that would be useful for Nashville.”