I confess that when I arrived at tonight's community meeting on the relocation of the Greyhound bus station from the Downtown core to 11th & Charlotte, my feelings were tempered and cool. My lack of enthusiasm had nothing to do with a lack of priority about this insulated and hushed-up move. Instead, it had to do with the fact that I've been waving red flags for months about dominoes bound to fall in the wake of the Music City Center; so, I wasn't shocked or surprised Metro's top-down, insulated habits of ruling over locals rose up to bite nearby North End neighborhood Hope Gardens. The transitional and blighted businesses Downtown have to go somewhere now that the new convention center is going up. We broke ground and bought the fallout.
However, I do not think that I was prepared for the abrupt confession by a Metro Planner that the move is permitted because of the Downtown Code (DC), which Metro adopted this past February. The DC was intended to be an expression of progress set out by the community in the 2007 Downtown plan. It was intended to remove obstacles for builders in order to develop "vibrant neighborhoods" that attract more people to live and work Downtown. I was incensed in this meeting, as I sensed others were, that Planning and the Convention Center Authority (CCA) were using the relative freedom granted in the DC as a loophole to drive the Greyhound terminal relocation through.
In my opinion the planner was so busy justifying the adherence of the relocation to the letter of the DC that she could not see the violation of the spirit of the code. The CCA was hard pressed by its failure to place the terminal on Murfreesboro Road because of shrill opposition. However, one Charlotte Avenue business owner suggested that sign kingpin and Metro backroomer Bobby Joslin had something to do with discouraging the move south, closer to his little empire. CCA spokesperson Holly McCall chimed in that the latitudes of the DC did not extend down Murfreesboro Road. A local resident retorted that Hope Gardens was being punished for attempting to be more progressive in helping formulate the DC than Greyhound opponents further south.
My frustrations failed to be allayed by Ms. McCall, who admitted that they never bothered to inform the local community that they were signing a contract with Greyhound for 11th & Charlotte because they were not required to. (Yes, to my bitter surprise, the contract has already been signed; so, effectively no other regulations can be mandated). But I was also just as frustrated with some in the audience who seemed shocked that no neighborhood representatives were on CCA. How many keep themselves willfully ignorant about the insular process Mayor Karl Dean uses to appoint boards and committees? Why do neighbors continue to assume that they can support Courthouses pet projects like Music City Center and that they have any control at all over the hyper-local repercussions of construction?
I appreciate that neighborhoods like Hope Gardens, Germantown, Buena Vista, and Salemtown are going to band together now to work to close the Downtown Code loophole that could allow such Music City Center fiascoes to spread north to Jefferson Street. I appreciate that Grayhound promises to work with neighborhood leaders to make sure the blight and crime associated with the terminal does not build. But where was the vigilance a few months ago when the convention center was just a concept? Surely, neighbors didn't believe that Music City Center was going to be all fairies and waterfalls like the Music City Center Coalition wanted us to believe. One of the items on the bill of goods we bought was an open door for the Courthouse culture to twist a well-intended building regulation into a cynical tool for selfish ends.
All anyone has to do is consider the fact that the Mayor's Office was invited to tonight's meeting. Karl Dean sent no one. No one. This was a meeting tailor-made for the empty shell that was once the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. Yet, the Mayor could not muster anyone from that do-nothing department. Before you buy the line that the Mayor's Office cares about the concerns of neighborhoods, consider this important North Nashville meeting that received nothing beyond its benign neglect.
Last, but not any less deflating, was acknowledgment that the CM for this district, Erica Gilmore, had known about the relocation and the lease signing for some time without informing her constituents. This is beyond befuddling. It is something we came to expect from Gilmore's predecessor, Ludye Wallace (who happened to be there tonight while she was not). While CM at-Large Jerry Maynard attended and spoke, he seemed at a loss when addressing Ms. Gilmore's knowledge and support. All he told us was that he was aware that "certain government officials" knew about the contract with Greyhound. A few days ago Erica Gilmore sent a personal statement to relocation critics, and then later she issued a second one that looks formulated by communications staff jargon hounds.
I left the meeting more disillusioned and annoyed than when I entered it the realist. It amounted to Metro-crafted insults on top of what I see as the community's self-inflicted injuries. It may have been an important community meeting, but it was not a good one for me. I could be getting too old for these confidence game confabs. The one redeeming quality is that the Courthouse showed how low it is willing to stoop with the Downtown Code. In the future none of us around the urban core should be caught off guard by the scope of this particular depravity.