Nashville needs to take safety seriously after Riley Strain’s death
Nashville needs to take safety seriously after Riley Strain’s death


Business leaders and community leaders must find a balance to ensure that people can have fun, stay safe and get help if they are in trouble.

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  • David Plazas is director of opinion and engagement for USA TODAY Network Tennessee.

The weekly “Sunday Passage” segment on the CBS Sunday Morning television show features prominent people who have passed away.

On March 24, the show noted eight “notable deaths,” including presidential tailor and Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield, actor M. Emmett Walsh, and civil rights activist Dorie Ladner. There was also an astronaut, the inventor of the karaoke machine, and singer Eric Carmen, who co-wrote “All by Myself.”

The sixth man of honor was unknown, but became widely known because he disappeared for two weeks in downtown Nashville. Riley Strain, the 22-year-old University of Missouri student, came to Music City with his fraternity brothers to enjoy the fun on Broadway and was last seen on March 8.

On March 22, authorities found his body in the Cumberland River eight miles from downtown near 61st Avenue in The Nations neighborhood.

Downtown has become off-putting to local residents and businesses

The strain deserves dignity in death as in life, but the national attention given the tragic circumstances is yet another blow to Nashville’s tourism hub, an economic powerhouse plagued by safety issues, real and perceived.

Remember back in December when the Metro Council approved a rule preventing snake dealers from throwing the reptile over a patron’s neck and asking for money to remove it?

Lower Broadway is the lens through which the world views Nashville.

Deaths like Strain’s aren’t common, but arrests, fights, drunkenness and bad behavior are. The environment is such that the strip has become a turn off for residents who choose to go elsewhere on the weekend and businesses who move away from the center due to the noise and unsavory behaviour.

Even the Nashville Chamber of Commerce is no longer located downtown, instead moving to the nearby Capitol View neighborhood.

Why can’t we have fun, earn money and be safe?

In January 2021, I interviewed Colin Reed, then-Chairman and CEO of Ryman Hospitality Properties, for the Tennessee Voices video show, and he told me that business leaders are very concerned about ensuring the safety of both tourists and residents. This was right after the Christmas Day downtown bombing and as businesses were working to reopen after closing due to the COVID pandemic.

Nashville – and downtown – is now booming again and the money is rolling in. In fact, downtown Nashville has rebounded better than any other urban center in the U.S. since the pandemic.

In 2023, the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development released a report showing that Nashville-Davidson County visitors spent $27 million per day the previous year, or $9.97 billion for the entire year. That’s up 35% from 2021.

Nobody wants to kill the golden goose, but we need to improve safety.

Will we be forced to do what Miami Beach, Florida did this month and impose a midnight curfew because of the violence that erupted over spring break last year? It’s not fun and would probably hurt the freedom Nashville tourists feel going around from place to place.

Business, political and community leaders must strike a balance to ensure people can have fun, stay safe and get help if they are in trouble.

Riley Strain was supposed to go home today. Instead, he is now known throughout the country as a victim of the mayhem of Lower Broadway.

David Plazas is director of opinion and engagement for USA TODAY Network Tennessee. He is a member of The Tennessean’s editorial board. He hosts the Tennessee Voices videocast and curates the Tennessee Voices and Latino Tennessee Voices newsletters. Call him at (615) 259-8063, email him at [email protected] or tweet him at @davidsquares.

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