[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.
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.