The Bridge Building, a city-owned building that recently underwent a $7 million reconstruction at the taxpayers' expense, is the new home of an office managed by the wife of the mayor of Nashville.
Anne Davis is managing partner at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is housed in a 2,000-square-foot office on the top floor of the Bridge Building.
Davis is married to Mayor Karl Dean.
The Bridge Building is a historic structure on the east bank of the Cumberland River. It was rehabbed by the Metro Housing and Development Agency and recently was awarded a LEED Platinum certification for its environmentally sensitive makeover.
MDHA owns the building, and last year, the agency leased it for 20 years to commercial developer Michael Baron. Baron, in turn, subleased the space to various tenants, one of which is the not-for-profit organization for which the mayor's wife is the managing partner.
Baron told Channel 4 News it never occurred to him it could be a conflict of interest for the mayor's wife to occupy space in a city building renovated at the taxpayer's expense.
"Personally, I really didn't. I really didn't, until you asked," Baron said.
The conflict of interest question was raised in March 2012, when Mayor Dean asked the city's law director if he saw any conflicts. Saul Solomon, the director of law, wrote a letter saying no.
"No special deals in any way, shape, form or manner were cut," Solomon told Channel 4 News.
When asked what rent the Southern Environmental Law Center was paying, Solomon said he didn't know.
"I have no idea. You'd have to ask Mr. Baron or MDHA or the SELC. I don't know," he said.
When asked how he assured the SELC was paying fair market value, Solomon said, "I took their word for it."
"I did not review the lease, no," Solomon said.
Solomon told Channel 4 News he had interviewed Baron, MDHA and Davis, however, Baron said he had never spoken to Solomon.
"I've not had any contact with any city officials except MDHA. They're my landlord," Baron said.
When contacted for a follow-up, Solomon said he thought he talked to Baron but may not have. Solomon said his file had been destroyed, since the conversation took place more than a year ago.
Davis declined to do an interview for this story. Her office referred Channel 4 News to the Virginia office of SELC. Its public affairs spokesman issued a statement saying:
"We are lucky to have Anne Davis as one of our over 100 employees throughout the southeast, but there is no story beyond that. Our organization pays market rate for our office space, and we have been handled like every other tenant through the building's private landlord."
Baron would not provide a specific number for how much SELC is paying to lease the top floor of the Bridge Building.
"It's in the $20-a-square-foot range, which is the market rate for the city," he said.
Experts in the field provided Channel 4 News with reports showing a range of prices for downtown office space in the mid-$20s.
The mayor's office declined to comment.
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