T Bone Burnett has toured as the guitarist for Bob Dylan.
He's produced the critically acclaimed soundtracks for "O Brother Where Art Thou?" ''Crazy Heart" and "Walk the Line."
He's earned 13 Grammy Awards over a storied 50-year career as a producer, musician and songwriter.
And yet when he talks about his next venture — hopes for a music and artist gathering place anchored by park space at the site of the old Metro-owned Greer Stadium south of downtown Nashville — he gets emotional.
He calls it a "legacy project," one that would rank right up there with his greatest works.
"This is my baby," Burnett told The Tennessean in a recent meeting. "I won't take credit for this, but I will take responsibility."
For the past two years, the 69-year-old Burnett said, he's been meeting with anyone willing.
The topic: the abandoned 21-acre Greer site, former home of the minor league baseball's Nashville Sounds and Fort Negley, a Civil War-era historic site next door that he says deserves greater attention.
Burnett, who has lived off and on in Nashville for years and bought a home in West End three years ago, said he first noticed the site during his drives to the House of Blues Studios in Berry Hill. He said he set out to explore how to make the property active 365 days a year.
Burnett put together a development team to turn his vision into a formal proposal, likening that task to his familiar role as a music producer. He brought in prominent Nashville developer Bert Mathews and longtime investment banker Tom Middleton.
The trio formed Cloud Hill Partnership, which Mayor Megan Barry's administration last month awarded an intent to contract with for the redevelopment.
Their Cloud Hill proposal — a private development totaling an estimated more than $100 million — would include more than 8 acres of dedicated park, public open space and greenways; 294 units of housing, around 80 set aside as affordable; and a "neighborhood-scale" market and retail area with restaurants and shops. A great public lawn would replace the stadium, but the foundation of the ballpark and iconic scoreboard would remain.
But perhaps Cloud Hill's most distinguishing element would be an "arts and music generator" that would include a cultural center for artists and musicians offering classes, maker space for artists, including filmmakers and musicians, and performance space.
Burnett said the center would include labs devoted to "education, incubation, acceleration and innovation" — not a place to produce records and compete with Nashville's existing studios, but for artists and musicians to come together.
He likened the center to a "facilitator."
"I've had a beautiful life of 50 years in music," he said. "That hasn't happened very often in history, that a person — of my medium talent especially — should make it through this sort of gauntlet. I want to do everything I can to safeguard that future for my children."
Barry's administration in January issued a request for proposals to redevelop the site before narrowing the list to five finalists and picking Cloud Hill last month.
One of those groups, which pitched a plan with a luxury hotel, housing and a sportsplex called Nashville Adventure Park, has protested Metro's selection, citing a list of grievances and requesting that the process be halted.
The Cloud Hill team met with Barry this past Tuesday to begin negotiations toward a final agreement. To move forward, the proposal also would need to satisfy historic guidelines and receive approval from the Metro Parks and Recreation Board and Metro Council.
In a statement, Barry glowed about the project, saying Cloud Hill Partnership has put together a "very thoughtful proposal" that would convert an unused baseball field and its surrounding parking into better, more active uses.
She also applauded the group for being "very intentional in their plan to honor and respect" Fort Negley Park, which she said is underutilized by the public because adjacent Greer Stadium sits empty.
Although the procurement process is momentarily stayed following the protest, Barry said she understands why a panel that reviewed the Greer proposals picked Cloud Hill.
"Once this process moves forward, Cloud Hill is absolutely committed to the goals of community and neighborhood engagement, and the preservation and protection of the history in and around this property," Barry said.
A project timeline is not decided. Burnett envisions a spectacular grand opening benefit concert in five years with a performance from Fisk University's Jubilee Singers to kick off Cloud Hill.
But not all the specifics of the project, particularly the artist space, are finalized. He said Cloud Hill would ultimately be guided by the artists and the surrounding Wedgewood-Houston community.
"I want to bring all the artists in town together and say, OK, what are we going to do with this site? How are we going to begin to activate this site?
"This is a civic project, and it's going to grow from the ground up. This is not a top-down project."
The idea of connection is a dominant theme of Cloud Hill.
Burnett wants Greer to help create a "walking district" that would allow pedestrians to access the nearby Edgehill, Napier, Wedgewood-Houston, Berry Hill and Gulch neighborhoods as well as area parks.
"The problem with this site is it's been cut up from the city by two freeways and the railroad track," Burnett said. "We want to reconnect these neighborhoods now."
He also wants pedestrians to be able to walk from the music venues of Lower Broadway to the dozens of music studios that have popped up at Berry Hill.
"One of the things that we started noticing early on is that music had been centralized in Music Row for decades," Burnett said. "But that it had now decentralized all through South Nashville."
Following guidelines set by Metro's request for proposals, the Cloud Hill Partnership is seeking a long-term ground lease with the city, which would retain ownership of the site. Cloud Hill has committed to pay for $7 million in infrastructure work for the site in addition to a payment of $1 million to the city.
The developers and Metro would share proceeds from the property.
The core Cloud Hill team also consists of Clayton Adkisson and Will Rosenthal of Nashville-based OPENWORKS, which specializes in urban development.
Burnett called his group "the best partnership I've ever had."
Mathews, founder of The Mathews Co., whose other projects include The Trolley Barns in Nashville, said the group sought to respond to the desires of the community by presenting a development at a smaller scale than the property could hold. "This is not, 'Let's max this thing out,' " he said.
"If it's only just those buildings, then we've not succeeded with what we're trying to accomplish," Mathews said of the mixed-use offerings of Cloud Hill. "It's much more about community and scale to be able to make this a really great environment."
Middleton, who is handling finances for the project, is a former executive at Merrill Lynch who most recently worked as senior managing director of The Blackstone Group, a private investment bank in New York.
"We want to design this, and have designed it, to be financially self-sustaining," Middleton said. "We feel we're going to create a vibrant enough community that provides commerce and capital to keep this place going as opposed to relying on philanthropy and government subsidies."
With Cloud Hill, Burnett said he was inspired by The Village studio in West Los Angles, which is in a 1920s-era Masonic temple, among other rehab projects of historic properties.
He said he's become a "disciple" of Jane Jacobs, the late nationally renowned urban studies expert and author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." He said Fred Kent, a national leader in revitalizing public places, has become a "mentor" and a "guiding light" during his endeavor.
"I am a preservationist," Burnett said. "So as soon as I hear a public property is being developed, my blood turns to ice water, which is part of why I stepped in here as a member of the community. I wanted to come up with a better plan than any of these developers can because they're trying to make money. This is a legacy project for us."
There are still several questions that Cloud Hill Partnership must address, and in some cases overcome, before anything is built.
Some observers have pushed for Greer to become exclusively a park. Historic preservationists have expressed concern about paying respect to the fort and honoring the hundreds of graves of former slaves that are believed to be at Greer.
Burnett said he's already tapped an archaeologist to review the site, has started to engage with historians, and said that he would use best archaeological practices aimed at preservation.
Critics, led by Metro Council Budget and Finance Chairman John Cooper, have bemoaned the closed-door state procurement process that the mayor's office used to pick a developer.
Burnett said he's simply trying to preserve the past and give back to the city he now calls home.
"Life's pulling me here," he said of Nashville. "We have a house here now, and I'm going to be living here.
"I've got a line at the end of my song that is, 'Let's make a future where we all want to live. Let's make a past we don't have to forgive.' That's what we're talking about (with Cloud Hill) in a nutshell."