Monday, September 20, 2010

Ballpark in North Nashville: the sound of inevitability?

Hope Gardens president Jason Powell made quite the splash in a recent Tennessean op-ed selling a new ballpark idea in the Bicentennial Mall area as brilliant to the point of self-evident:
The neighborhoods, businesses and developments around Sulphur Dell are vibrant, supportive of a new ball park and poised for further growth. Downtown work­ers and residents, in addition to the surrounding neighborhoods of Germantown, Buena Vista, Salemtown and Hope Gardens and condos in the Sulphur Dell area, have the popula­tion to anchor attendance at games.

Jefferson Street is bustling with energy, and a Sulphur Dell stadium would boost the corridor’s economic development potential ....

The location is already well-suited for professional baseball. Imagine grabbing a meal in Ger­mantown or at the Farmers Market, then relaxing at Bicentennial Mall before strolling to the ballpark to catch a game ....

Sulphur Dell’s location in the northern urban core is ideal in terms of transportation. It is bor­dered by Jefferson Street, which intersects two interstates. Rosa L. Parks Boulevard runs on the opposite side of the Farmers Market and connects to another interstate. Parking is abun­dant and space exists for added parking spots ....
As an elected representative from Salemtown on Jason's ballpark committee, I guess I have some latitude to write a minority report, because our association is not as unquestioning in support of a ballpark as this op-ed seems to suggest.

During our association discussions, Salemtown Neighbors expressed concerns about traffic flow, pedestrian elements, and developments consistent with community character. We did not express unqualified support. On the contrary, we iterated our wish that the Nashville Civic Design Center organize community town hall meetings to give neighborhoods a chance to give feedback and to have an opportunity for informed buy-in.

Since Jason's one meeting for neighborhood leaders just before the May floods, both CM Erica Gilmore and I have e-mailed NCDC to organize these community meetings. However, we received no replies. It is kind of startling to me that Jason does not bring up prospects of any meetings consistent with the charrettes that NCDC sponsored a few years ago when a ballpark was proposed for the thermal site. In my opinion we cannot assume that the North End neighborhoods support Sulphur Dell until meetings are held. No amount of PR can change that.

There are two other important points that should be made about Jason's booster piece, one that is inherent in his argument and one that I have discovered since the op-ed appeared. First, there is the tension (perhaps even contradiction) between Jason's pedestrian idyll about strolling to the ballpark and his vehicle-oriented views about access. One of the obstacles to economic development on Jefferson Street is that pedestrians are deterred by the car-centered intersection of Jeff St and Rosa Parks. Building a ballpark will likely require expanding vehicular access to this intersection, which will in turn further deter pedestrians from "strolling" down Jeff St to eat at Garden Brunch Cafe before games, for instance. I mentioned these problems at length to Metro Planners at last week's North Nashville Community Plan meeting.

Second, I was told by sources I consider reputable late Friday that the Sounds ownership recently met with the Mayor's Office, and they made it clear that Sulphur Dell was out of the question for a new ballpark as far as they are concerned. If the Sounds hold pat against Sulphur Dell and the Mayor stands pat against the old thermal plant site, then the only option left is the East Bank. I heard word several weeks ago that the Sulphur Dell proposal was one that was initiated not from the grassroots in North Nashville, but from within the Courthouse itself. My first question upon hearing that was whether Sulphur Dell boosterism was being used by the Mayor's Office to sway the focus away from the old thermal site. If the East Bank is the fall-back site, the North End should not restrict its options by going all in on a site the team will not accept.

From community to Courthouse, there are so many variables that have to fall into place to make pro baseball in North Nashville fly. And yet, so little has occurred on the ground. The signals I am reading suggest a ballpark here is remote but, even if it were more real, the local community needs to be brought along, assured that community character and quality of life will be protected in the process.

UPDATE: I e-mailed Nashville Civic Design Center honcho Gary Gaston the e-mails CM Gilmore and I sent during the past year to a NCDC board member requesting assistance for community meetings per his request in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. Mike,

    Could you resend the email regarding community meetings - I do not recall receiving it.

    Many Thanks

    Gary Gaston