Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Update on that $157,000 stadium feasibility project

My bets are on Populous picking Sulphur Dell as one of the two top choices (if not the top choice) on November 1 and on Populous later becoming the company picked to win the design contract as they have been in the past without much of a search by Mayor Dean who generally doesn't conduct open searches:

[Jim] Fyke said he expects Populous to narrow the field to two or three sites in the next month and recommend the best one around Nov. 1. The consultant, formerly known as HOK Sport, has designed numerous ballparks, from the new Yankee Stadium in New York to venues for AAA teams like the Sounds in Memphis, Indianapolis and Durham, N.C.

While Dean has expressed a preference for Sulphur Dell, a historic baseball site dating to the years after the Civil War, the Sounds have said they’d prefer to be at the thermal plant site, where previous ownership planned to move the team until a deal collapsed four years ago. The mayor has said he’d like to put an amphitheater there.

Fyke said the consultants will help the city understand the bottom line at each location after exploring topography, infrastructure needs, land prices, the availability of parking and other factors.

“They’ll separate the emotions and look at the economics of each site,” he said. “We want to make it an objective approach.”

It seems to me that "objective" approaches would also take community character and sustainability issues into account, too, but I'm not a really expensive part-time hire brought in to make a new stadium happen like Fyke is, either.

But this latest update got me to thinking more about the development projects emanating from the Mayor's Office. There are differences between the machinations behind the Fairgrounds redevelopment plan and the concept of a Sulphur Dell stadium: for instance, the concept is at this point more abstract than the plan was. However, there are some interesting similarities

  • Both initiatives were initiated and shepherded by the Mayor's Office
  • Interest groups historically connected to attached sports venues (speedway supporters and the Sulphur Dell preservation group lead by Skip Nipper) did not express support for the Mayor's plan
  • Both initiatives were given an aura of community support, led by individuals with Democratic Party connections (Colby Sledge and Jason Powell)
  • In the early stages of each initiative supportive community groups did not divulge the degree of support (or neutrality or opposition) in the community other than to claim that a number of neighborhood groups supported both
  • The print media did not bother to research or test claims of community support for each initiative
  • Both initiatives had an at-Large CM and a district CM following the Mayor and lending enthusiastic support rather than asking questions or inviting more scrutiny
  • Neither initiative was launched with a transparent process of community-based master planning that took into account traffic impact, parking provisions, existing community plans, smart growth/sustainability, complete streets including walkability, mass transit expansion alternatives, or environmental impact of run-off
  • Both initiatives were more informed by elites than by the grassroots subject to redevelopment impact

After the Tennessean story quoted above appeared, Jason Powell tweeted to reporter Michael Cass that 4 neighborhood groups in the area had already expressed unqualified support. Not among those 4 was Salemtown Neighbors, which responded to Jason's original invitation to join other "champions" for the Sulphur Dell cause with a more cautious openness. SNNA members expressed preferences to see plans, impact studies, and measures to protect our quality of life. Some here expressed the hope that the community would participate to the same degree that they did when a previous proposal for new baseball park was formulated several years ago. None of that has happened, yet, so Jason Powell cannot include us with the groups who adopted an untested idea with no questions asked.

Source: Tennessean
I hope that we will be fortunate enough to see whether the community support for a ballpark here--without any assurances or process--is as deep as claimed or whether--like the Fairgrounds question--there is a lot more ambiguity of community opinion on this than Powell's "champions" or the Mayor's Office are willing to acknowledge. It is noteworthy that the only poll of opinions on this topic is the Tennessean's online poll connected with the story quoted above, because Sulphur Dell is not the pick of a majority of reader/responders.

Let's be clear: the poll is not scientific or broadly representative. But it was promoted on the Facebook page started by Powell's group (not to be confused with Skip Nipper's sulphurdell.com Facebook group) to build a new stadium here in the North End. So, the poll's limitations actually benefit groups that can coordinate large numbers of people to shape perceptions by participating. Yet, expanding the strike zone to get a bigger hit is risky. Sulphur Dell does not have nearly enough votes to win after two weeks. Supporters of a new Sulphur Dell ballpark cannot mobilize enough respondents to draw close to the old thermal plant property (which is not to say that spot is better). Producing numbers would bolster those claims of popular support, but the numbers are not yet delivered.

We're probably going to get much more clarity on the future of a ballpark than we've had come November 1. However, the question of local community support is still up in the air as far as I'm concerned, and if supporters of the Mayor's preference for Sulphur Dell hope to motivate community buy-in, they would be better advised to take some steps toward incorporating community questions and concerns.


  1. Am I the only one curious how we can afford a new stadium?
    A few short months ago our Mayor relayed a message of raised property tax's if the fairgrounds property was not redeveloped in a hurry.

    The City Council has made it very clear, our city is basically broke, our bond rating has dropped, we are over budget on the MCC, and our debt structure for our other capital spending measures is being restructured.
    When do we as citizens rally and say STOP!!!

    If the sounds owners want a new stadium, let them pay for it.
    Here is an idea, take the 10 Million the Mayor intended to spend on the Hickory Hollow Dillards building for the Flea Market in a box and spread it evenly between Greer stadium and the Fairgrounds.
    Give both properties a leg up.
    Why does everything need to be shiny and new?
    How about giving the places that have helped define Nashville for generations a face lift and upgrades?
    Preserve our history and quit spending so much money.
    Everyone else has to live within our means.
    It is time we as citizens spoke loudly to our local government and demand they do the same.

  2. Why not take a PSL approach (private seat license) to the proposed minor league park?

    Seats could be sold to groups (the corporate backers, for one)as well as to individuals. PSL sales could fund half of the stadium. The city could fund the rest.

    This would put the money where the mouths are.

    We'd have seats available to the general public, and PSL seats for those who think this is a good investment for the city.

    Let those who buy PSLs have a big say in where to locate the stadium.(If it's a good investment, let the share-holders have a say).

    That said, I don't think the city should be footing the entire bill on a new stadium.

    A great example:

    Folks have been raising money for the past five years for lights at the football fields next to the Steeplechase grounds at Percy Warner Park so that that they can have night football and soccer. From what I understand, they are on their way to doing so. But it's citizens in that area who have been putting up the bucks).

    Personally, I could get behind the city investing in and improving the Sound's current venue:

    The history is already there. The location is great.

    The Sulphur Dell "history" will not do anything to spur ticket sales. It will simply be something to talk about and is NO basis for locating a stadium there (I think the history talk is all PR bullshit).

    I think there is a "civic" aspect to a baseball stadium. For that reason, I like the idea of Nashville having a great stadium (and race-way).

    So, let's invest in what are already great assets.

    As a close friend of mine recently said, "I'm tired of Nashville tearing everything down and replacing it with something that has no soul."

    I would add:

    "Especially when it costs a few hundred mil."

  3. I'm curious as to what your definition of "individuals with Democratic Party connections" is? Does simply voting or giving a donation to a Democrat make this the case? If so, wouldn't you (before you went off the deep end) have qualified under this definition?