Sunday, August 26, 2012

Plans being drawn up for the Werthan Packing Plant site

A couple of weeks ago City Paper reporter Joey Garrison asked me if I had heard of an Atlanta developer's proposal to demolish parts of the Werthan packing site (on 5th Avenue North between Taylor and Hume) and build a mixed-use development there. I told him that that I had not, and he referred me to a CP article on it quoting one SWH Residential Partners manager speaking of plans to go to the Planning Commission on August 15 with the intention of breaking ground in 2013 if approved. The CP also reported that while the exact use remains unclear, the building at the corner of 5th and Taylor (pictured above) will not be demolished, even though the staff seemed to recommend demolition of all buildings on the site. The large brick building farther down the block would be demolished under the plan.

I told Joey I had not heard anything about the plan, although I talked to a number of Salemtown neighbors who live near the Werthan plant with definite ideas about what should be done with the property. He asked if I knew of any concerns about tearing down historical structures on the property. I could think of none.

I could not attend the August 15 commission meeting, but after reading that the proposal was "partially approved with conditions", I did follow up with the planner overseeing it. She responded that the plan was partially approved because during the commission meeting SWH scaled back the number of buildings they were requesting to demolish. The condition required by the commission is that SWH provide photographic documentation of the site as-is, prior to demolition. She reiterated that Metro Planning has received no plans for construction or reorientation of the site and that an environmental study is being conducted at present.

I told the planner that, as a nearby neighbor of Werthan, I am not opposed to quality mixed-use construction at the old plant site. As I told the reporter, I cannot think of any reason why the buildings should not be demolished for something new that enhances our quality of life. My main concern about the Werthan facility has always been their heavy, large, highway-oriented traffic using Salemtown's narrow streets. The fact that the developer has an idea for mixed use at the site makes rezoning worth serious consideration. I could support it if traffic concerns are addressed in the reorientation. We need less rather than more 18-wheelers coming through Salemtown.

Related: the Nashville Civic Design Center's ambitious proposal for a governor's mansion and "green" down to the Cumberland River never really stood a chance at this site.

UPDATE: A Germantown resident tweets an outstanding idea for creating positive automobile traffic flow around the new development at the old Werthan site: flip Taylor on the south and Hume on the north one-way streets. This is an idea we should organize around and pursue with Metro Planning and Metro Traffic and Parking.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The North End name game steams into full marketing mode

Now that "Capitol District" is promoted in the Tennessean under the auspices of journalism, the PR drive is full steam ahead. The paper also seems to nod to a query I made not too long ago: Capitol District is the latest vehicle for bringing a new minor league ballpark to Sulphur Dell.

Mee-mi-mo-mistrict. District.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Service marred an otherwise delicious Silo first brunch

Last Sunday we walked from our Salemtown home down to the newly opened Silo restaurant in Germantown, which bills itself as a "Southern-influenced, neighborhood bistro". On the way we passed several parties headed to the new bistro's main brunch competition: Germantown Cafe, which sits across an intersection from Silo.

We made reservations to avoid what we thought would be a crush for Silo's first brunch. While the turnout was vigorous, there was no crush. There were open tables and bar stools while were there. For the time being, that is a noteworthy contrast to Germantown Cafe. In the future that could change.

The ambiance of the restaurant is comfortably cool with large picture windows, cedar-planked walls, and a large basket weave feature overhead at the center of the dining room. The wooden tables and chairs are invitingly substantial. There is an empty outdoor patio on the 5th Avenue side that looks like it could accommodate bistro tables. The host stand was squeezed in a corner next to the front door when we were there, which caused arriving patrons to line up and hold the door open, letting house flies in. I assume this configuration could eventually let cold drafts in when winter arrives. Silo might want to find a better way to corral waiting patrons.

Water was brought to our table in recycled Bulleit Bourbon bottles, which I thought was a nice touch. However, it seemed a little late getting there with apologies from our server based on this being Silo's first brunch. I believe that we were thoroughly prepared to be patient with first brunch glitches.

I do not believe we were prepared to sit at our table for an hour and a half before our entrees arrived. I know our hungry 8-year-old was not prepared. Our appetizers did arrive sooner, though later than we expected. Our concerns about the service were salved by a tasty heirloom tomato tart and roasted corn soup buoying jalapeno hushpuppies. I never turn down fresh tomato dishes this time of year and the tart did not disappoint fruitside. The tomatoes were plump and firm with no hint of rind or blemish. They were suspended between a flaky, satisfying crust and lively basil leaves. As good as the bulk of the pie was, the crowning edge of the crust was burned. I believe that those final bites of crust should at least be lagniappe if not the perfect ending. But the tart's finish was weak.

The hushpuppies in the corn soup (itself excellent) were not too spicy (for my tastes they were not spicy enough) and they seemed baked rather than deep fried. If the chef deep fried them, they should have been more crunchy in texture.

I found the combination of flavors in the Silo burger, which boasts smoked pimento cheese, onions and pickles, to be perfect. Pimento cheese on a hamburger often strikes me as disjointed and uncoordinated. Silo's edition, more firm than creamy, was an unmatched accompaniment to the beef on the sandwich. I found no need for any other condiments, and the flavors were also well married to the thin pickle slices and slivered red onions. The "proper fries" on the side were limp and uninspired. I could not liven them up with anything. But the burger was really the crucial part of the plate and it was fantastic.

Our daughter had french toast that was light, not too sweet even though it was punctuated by peach preserves. I plan to claim that dish for myself in a future visit.

Despite our frustration with Silo's service, we enjoyed the flavor of the food when it eventually arrived. When I expressed our dissatisfaction to the staff, the chef ordered champagne for the put-out parents and the manager told us our food was on the house. We appreciated the good will, but it was also the least they could do for our inconvenience.

The fare is worthy and we will be back to Silo, because everyone deserves a second chance. Besides there is evidence to suggest our experience may have been the exception. Case in point: we watched diners all around us enjoying their food while we bore the wait on slow boil.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Empty suit nepotism

It's bad enough that Karl Dean undercut his own stated principle of local government autonomy from state intrusion to support a charter school application. But now it appears that he leans on the influence of family connections that sacrifices that principle rather than vaulting over it to some higher principle about privatized education itself:

Before Mayor Karl Dean made public comments scolding the school board in May over charter schools, a family relative who has ardently supported the controversial Great Hearts Academies application revised the mayor’s prepared remarks.

A series of emails from inside the mayor’s office about Great Hearts Academies shows that Bill DeLoache, a cousin of Dean’s wife, Anne Davis, was a key figure in unveiling Dean’s public support of the charter school application even as concerns began to arise about the proposal.

DeLoache has been involved in the charter school movement since the early 1990s.

Karl Dean actually withheld the requested series of emails from the news media based on a specious defense until journos forced his hand with a second request for just the "sent to" and "received from" information without the content. He then released the emails. That does not pass the smell test of legitimacy for me.

Mayor Dean takes care of his own first. And in Nashville, to paraphrase Michael Corleone, one never goes against the family.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My recent vote for Ed Kindall validated

Julia Green is a well-heeled school in affluent Green Hills that provides their kids with iPads. Mr. Kindall lost his North Nashville school board seat by a few hundred votes to Sharon Gentry. Wish I could have been there for that "discussion".

Jump to background.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Cocoa Tree in Germantown closes

A couple of weeks ago The Cocoa Tree announced on its website that it was closing for good on July 28, which is sad news for all of us in the North End who feel loyalty to our local businesses. The closing also further casts the haze of uncertainty on the capacity of Salemtown to plan for small mixed-use complexes without any specific demand from small business owners who look to locate here. Germantown is a mixed use bellwether for Salemtown's capacity to develop more than residential.

The Cocoa Tree is closed. Zackies hotdoggery shortened its hours a while back as did Drink Haus. The business space in Germantown's mixed used development at the corner of 4th Ave N and Monroe St. still sits empty with "for lease" signs in the window. All these trends suggest to me that we need to work harder on keeping the businesses that we have and on listening to serious new requests for rezoning as they arise rather than building it first in the hopes that they will come.

Meanwhile, I will miss The Cocoa Tree, and I wish the owner the best of luck.

Bass Pros gone wild

According to the Atlantic Monthly, a new report finds that over the past 15 years, cities and towns have earmarked $2.2 billion in taxpayer revenues to subsidize Bass Pro Shops in their communities. Bass Pro officials defend this sweetheart corporate welfare, which can drive smaller, locally owned companies out of business, by comparing their private enterprise to publicly held institutions like parks and libraries:

"These aren’t just stores – they are natural history museums," he says. "Every store is designed to reflect the unique natural environment of the area in which it is located." He adds that often a Bass Pro store is an anchor development that attracts additional retailers.

Nashville's Bass Pro
Then again, the amount of tax dollars that have been poured into these two companies would be enough to purchase every man, woman and child in the United States their own fishing pole.

Typically, these stores are financed through familiar economic development schemes like tax increment financing districts. Basically, a city borrows money by selling bonds on Wall Street and then pays off the debt with the increase in property or sales taxes generated in that TIF district.

At bottom Bass Pro is a profit making enterprise at odds with the more public purposes of municipal amenities that everyone has access to. So, comparing them to museums is a diabolical attempt to rebrand by erasing distinctions.

The City of Memphis has authorized the issuance of $215 million in bonds to fund Bass Pro even in the face of a report that finds that municipalities that bankroll Bass Pro have not always enjoyed the revenues and jobs that company PR flacks and lobbyists promise. The risks of handing over taxpayer money to the company can also lead to increased debt and unrealized tax revenues.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Money, influence, Will Pinkston, and Metro Public Schools

Want to see something interesting? Take a look at a spreadsheet that a source put together to help me illuminate some interesting things about the donors of District 7 school board candidate Will Pinkston, who was also one of former Governor Phil Bredesen's hired goons. For my part, I would draw several things out as voters go to the polls tomorrow:
  • Bredesen and the Bredesenistas have dumped nearly $10,000 into the campaign of a school board candidate (of all things) in what appears to me to be a naked attempt to prop up the former governor's influence across Nashville's power structures
  • 96% of Pinkston's obscene total amount of campaign donations ($52,750) came from outside of District 7, further reinforcing my opinion that the District 7 race is more of a power grab from the outside than a good faith effort to improve our kids' education
  • The teachers union and Michelle Rhee's PAC essentially cancel out each other's influence by each giving Pinkston $3,000. The history of union organizing is replete with ironies big and small, so there is no reason to overthink the self-defeating moves of the local teachers union except to point out that they put themselves in the same Pinkston boat with Michelle Rhee, who is consumed with eliminating teachers unions from the education equation 
  • The Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which is pro-charter schools and pro-privatization, is going all in on the Pinkston poker game, their PAC splurging with $7,100 and various CofC principals parlaying $3,000. If money is power, then the Nashville Chamber is the power broker here
  • An astroturf group with connections to Mayor Karl Dean is also linked to this donors list. Neighbors for Progress, a group designed to aid the Mayor's bid to flip the State Fairgrounds to private developers and to demolish its public facilities, donated $100 to Mr. Pinkston (who also worked for the Dean for Mayor re-election effort). NFP once provided an in-kind donation of over $3,000 on behalf of the council campaign of Bredesen pick Sarah Lodge Talley, for whom Mr. Pinkston provided black ops. Pinkston himself was an adviser to NFP and he donated $1,000 to them. Ms. Talley and her campaign treasurer have donated to Mr. Pinkston. The attorney representing NFP has also donated to Will Pinkston's campaign. Is all of this feeling a bit incestuous yet?
  • While Moving Nashville Forward, another astroturf group with Dean connections, has not donated to Will Pinkston's campaign, the lawyer who set them up has donated. MNF received $26,000 from Karl Dean to grease the wheels toward passage of his latest budget
  • Prominent state Democratic Party leaders put themselves knee-deep in the muck by donating to this hit man in a race in which they have no obvious investment. For instance, why should a Democrat running for Chattanooga Mayor care to try and help out a Nashville school board candidate?

There are enough lawyers and lobbyists donating to Will Pinkston to make my skin crawl; but much worse is the probability that the political connections of influence across this donors report reflect a concern not so much with the future of our kids as with the consolidation by the powers-that-be.

Anyway, that's my part. Go read the donors list yourself and let me know what you think. District 7 voters go to the polls tomorrow.

Karl Dean, Super PACman

Nashville City Paper writer, J.R. Lind observes that the Mayor Karl Dean's budget never really needed the help in Metro Council that Moving Nashville Forward, for which Dean was the major donor, provided. Then Lind wonders what former CM Erik Cole (co-leader of MNF, married to a Dean appointee) will tell us about his operation as well as how that operation could help Hizzoner realize some future aspirations:

There were, Cole insists, other donors. Who are they? Well, he’ll tell us. Eventually.

Or will he?

Cole said he intends to create Moving Nashville Forward as a 501(c)(4) — the Jan Brady of the 501(c) portion of the tax code. These types of groups are, under the law, “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and, unlike their more famous sister the 501(c)(3), can lobby for legislation.

For years, 501(c)(4) groups were forgotten, beloved only by the persnickety secretary-treasurers of neighborhood associations. But, thanks to a handful of judicial decisions, they have a fancier name — Super PACs. And that gives them a special status: They are under no obligation to release the names of their donors.

If Cole follows through on his promise to create this 501(c)(4) — and it’s curious Moving Nashville Forward wasn’t organized before now — Hizzoner will have sown the seeds indeed: not just for grassroots tax-increase support, but for unlimited expenditures for any future political aspirations.  

It is curious that there is no record of MNF's organization as a 501(c)(4) previously. How long were they going to let that go on after receiving such a large donation from Karl Dean, thus threatening the legality of their machine-like politics?