Friday, November 30, 2012

North Capitol

In a recent commentary on development around old Sulphur Dell, the Nashville City Paper comments on the status of public and private development:

Until a group of private investors announced earlier this year the rehabbing of two buildings at the southeast corner of Jefferson Street and Third Avenue North, Leibowitz’s District Lofts and Craighead Development’s two-building Harrison Square and conversion of Riverfront Apartments to a condominium building essentially had been North Capitol’s only significant private development since the Bicentennial Mall opened 16 years ago.

And if private development has been modest, the construction of civic structures on the multiple acres of state-owned property within the district has been nonexistent.

Plans for the public-private $47.5 million National Museum of African American Music, now pushing 10 years in the making, seemingly have stalled indefinitely. The most recently available tax return shows the nonprofit had only about $2.57 million on hand at the end of 2010. The tax records also indicate the organization tasked with spearheading the project operated at a deficit that year.

Support for a new home for the Nashville School for the Arts magnet high school has gained minimal traction. Progress has been painfully slow on a new Tennessee State Museum building. And a Nashville Sounds baseball stadium on the old Sulphur Dell site doesn’t appear likely.

I wasn't aware of any proposals for a new magnet high school. The last I heard was that the Nashville Civic Design Center was pushing the idea of a charter school for the area. While the journalists maintain that a new ballpark does not appear likely, I keep hearing about the prospect of it here in the community. Some here don't seem to be as willing to let it go. The prospect of the African American Music museum sadly lists in malaise, and in my opinion it could have been prevented if the Mayor's Office had put more of its own energies into it. The concept has dropped off the radar here in the North End. Chatter I hear from the associations shows no hint of political will to work on it.

I think that "North Capitol" is a much better moniker than "Capitol District" a name recently pitched by association officers here in Germantown and Salemtown. The term "district" is hackneyed and trite; NoCap is more attractive, less sterile and stale. In the past I have pitched the idea of calling our area "Capitol Downs".

One exception that I take to the City Paper is that the Bicentennial Mall area is "eerily people-free". We go to the area on a regular basis at all times of the day and we see quite a number of people, especially neighbors who live around the Mall using the common spaces and the Farmers' Market. Granted, it is usually not as densely packed with tourists as Downtown is (for some of us that makes it more attractive), but the park area has been consistently used in the 8 years we have lived here. My next door neighbors even had their wedding ceremony at the Bicentennial Mall chimes this year. The times we have seen denser crowds of tourists in the area include the Music City Marathon and the National Folk Festival (an event cancelled this year due to neglect from corporations and courthouse).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Government subsidized soap opera

You cannot pay for this kind of advertising for Nashville, but it looks like we are going to any way:

producers say “Nashville” will need additional state and local incentives to justify the cost of filming in its namesake over other areas. They’ve estimated $44 million in direct spending in Tennessee and say costs continue to crop up.
Music City welfare queens

“We’ve already spent a lot of money on the infrastructure here,” the show’s producer, Loucas George, said, adding that he’s “discovered a lot of costs since coming here” compared to other common film venues.

The basic issue: Music City offers an authentic environment and musical talent that’s key to the show, producers said, but it doesn’t have a market of other film-related professionals, businesses and infrastructure to be a natural long-term fit — or enough government tax incentives to offset such costs.

"Discovered a lot of costs ... compared to other common film venues"? In one of the country's most affordable cities? And what other common film venues could possibly be cheaper than Nashville, which perpetually brands itself as a relatively low-cost alternative?

Maybe Cleveland? After all, there is some indication that producers might not require the "authentic environment" of Nashville. That claim could be a canard, a head fake that allows wealthy people to skip on meeting their civic obligations beyond fuzzy "economic impact". Producers of the motion picture The Avengers set their film in New York City, but replicated NYC with green screens and on location in Cleveland, Ohio:

For some of the character close-ups, they recreated the signature Big Apple bridgeway in front of a giant green screen inside an abandoned train station in Albuquerque. For the bulk of the street scenes, they relocated to a city not commonly mistaken for America’s most prominent metropolis: Cleveland.

Cleveland, a struggling Midwestern city with a population that has steadily declined from more than 500,000 in 1990 to 393,000 in 2011, got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to act as a body double for Manhattan, central borough of the city that never sleeps, population 8.24 million and rising. But not without a makeover: The movie’s production designers imported New York taxis, building facades, and street signs—along with a healthy supply of premade rubble—in order to replicate the look and feel of an invaded midtown Manhattan.

Why Cleveland? The decision to film in the Forest City can be explained in two words: tax subsidies.

Likewise, ABC producers could easily mimic Nashville's environment with CGI or sets. And there is no guarantee that if state and Metro officials cave to their demands and subsidize the soap opera, that producers would not locate another city that offered bigger subsidies where they could easily replicate Nashville's environment. Once state and local government starts down the road of subsidizing TV and film projects, there is nothing to stop competitive bidding and secondary markets to lure bottom-line producers away from "authentic environments".

And the true risk of this subsidy is worse. As if the fuzziness of economic impact were not significantly discouraging enough, there does not seem to be clear evidence that "investing" tax dollars itself guarantees returns:

But state-based film tax credits are a big idea without a big payoff. Currently 43 states offer the subsidies, which are worth a total of $1.5 billion. Multiple government reviews of those credits in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts have concluded that the subsidies typically fail to pay for themselves. Instead, states end up losing money paying for film productions that in many cases would have happened with or without the tax incentives.

Hence, the producers--always hell bent on cutting costs to free up revenues to put somewhere else--can generate their enterprise without tax incentives. As dire as they make their situation sound, as much as they beg poverty (a farce when one looks at the high-price marketing that goes into the production) they likely do not need the money. They likely sense that Tennessee and Nashville give cash away to people who already have huge amounts of it. They may just want a piece of the action. They sure as hell do not need our tax dollars as much as we do to pay for our schools, sidewalks, and parks.

For his part, Hizzoner seems to be straddling the fence:

The state has already extended $7.5 million to the show by reimbursing expenses. Metro Government has yet to offer tax breaks or cash grants. Mayor Karl Dean says he’s happy to talk about it.
“’Nashville’ – the show – you can’t buy that, you can’t get that for our city. I mean, we’re a city that is getting a lot of attention nationally, and ‘Nashville’ is a big part of it. I’m not commenting either way if we’re going to be a part of any sort of economic incentives. I’m just saying it is a big plus and a positive for Nashville.”

But if he lives up to his past habit of passing out corporate welfare with reckless disregard for the future delivery of Metro services, then ABC's "Nashville" producers are going to get what they want, whether it is good enough or not. The show should be called "Cashville".

Monday, November 19, 2012

What do you call 100 developers at the bottom of the ocean?

Once again with the old bait-and-switch:

Developers promised something different. Residents thought they were getting a development that included buildings and a green area. Instead, they now live beside a dump.

"It's supposed to be a greenway, a little pond and trees and benches to sit on," said James Mullins.

He and others near the Antioch community feel deceived by what is on the 44 acre tract of land beside Mullins' home.

There are huge mounds of concrete and gravel.

Neighbors claim property owners are gaming the system.

"This is unacceptable," said Metro Councilwoman Karen Y. Johnson.

Johnson said she attended a public meeting last year in which developers promised to build homes, industrial properties and a green area with a pond.

"There was no talk in the meeting about the operation that is occurring there today," Johnson said as she looked over the site.

Unless developers are willing to put their promises in writing, always verify before you trust. Caveat emptor.

By the way this story included comments from the developer's engineer, Roy Dale, who has also been working with developers in Salemtown:

Now, tanker trucks can legally dump things like drilling fluid on the site.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked a spokesman for the owners when the recycling and dumping will stop on the property.

Roy Dale responded, "I don't know that I can answer that question."

Dale is the engineer and represents the owners in front of Metro Boards.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do the owners have a clear vision for what is going to be here?"

Dale responded, "I think yes. At the end of the day it's going be a commercial industrial site no doubt about it."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do they have a clear vision on a timetable?"

Dale responded, "Probably not."

He admitted the recycling facility is the main focus on the property right now, but insists he is trying to get the owners to start building what they originally promised soon.

"I think that's something they should do. And I think it's something that ya'll have probably helped to happen, and I think that's a good thing," Dale said.

We shall see whether this is savvy public relations or a good-will expectation of promises fulfilled.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The lily white Scene

Genma Holmes observes that the Nashville Scene's coverage of the Belle Meade Country Club's acceptance of its first African American also caters to a culture to which the publication is already predisposed:

The Scene and its commentators have debated in depth the merits of David Ewing, Darrell freeman and others becoming members, or not, of the exclusive club located in West Nashville. What I find more interesting is the lily white makeup of the media outlet that is reporting on the lily white complexion of a social club. I also find it ironic the number of events around town that are sponsored by The Scene and NFocus that caters to the constituents of Belle Meade Country Club. Now compare that to the number of events that have a more diverse, modest income crowds that are not sponsored. Hmm.

Every once in a while Scene writers will try on an article of populism or two, but it always comes across as awkward given the way the publication trains on and caters to Nashville's high bold-and-beautiful society running the West End-Warner Parks corridor. I have never understood why the the racial make-up of the Belle Meade Country Club matters so much to the kids blogging for the Scene. Surely, there are more pressing progressive challenges that this city faces, and the Nashville Scene seems generally slow to consider them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What the market will bear II

It's a classic story of seduction and betrayal. Major league baseball scion Jeffrey Loria insisted he needed money from the city of Miami and Dade County if he was to keep his team in South Florida. Miami blinked, caved and financed 80% of a new stadium for Loria, who feigned poverty:

Well, the whining finally worked in 2009, and construction of Marlins Park began. Overall, it cost the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County over $500 million. However, counting debt and interest payments, the cost will in the end amount to $2.4 billion. Oh, and remember how Loria claimed the team couldn't afford to build the park themselves? The SEC has been investigating the stadium deal, specifically the claims that public funds were necessary.

They were particularly unnecessary as of today because Loria has embarked on a fire sale, sending all of his high-priced players to Toronto for prospects with modest salaries. The players he traded were pitched last winter as a chunk of the world class team designed to fill the subsidized stadium and stuff city coffers. The owner appears no longer willing to lavish salaries on superstars to pay back public subsidies he lobbied for.

Nashville is not considering building a major league ballpark, but the lesson for minor league cities is no less real: the spin of pro sports owners (and the politicians who enable them) is not to be taken naively.

UPDATE: Bob Nightengale minces no words in underscoring the criminal intent of this stadium con:

The Miami Marlins pulled off the ultimate Ponzi scheme, getting South Florida taxpayers to pay for a new ballpark to watch a product that simply doesn't exist.

Bernie Madoff is spending the rest of his life in prison for his con job. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and President David Samson get to walk free, enjoying the fine artwork, fish tanks and swimming pools in their $634 million facility....

These guys conned taxpayers into paying $409 million for their retractable-roof stadium, and there's a cool $2.4 billion service debt. They told their public they would be the New York Yankees of the South, only to become the same ol' Marlins. The dollars they've committed beyond 2013? Zero.

What the market will bear

The question of a minor league ballpark has been lately lurking on a back burner here in Nashville, but in news from other minor league-level cities, ballparks are at the forefront. For comparative purposes, I give you El Paso, Texas and their bid for a Padres affiliate:

For a minor-league stadium deal, the El Paso one is crazily complex: The city will have to tear down its City Hall to make way for the stadium, which means city government will need to pay about $30 million to acquire new buildings to do its business in. Also, the city won’t share in any stadium revenue, but will get rent payments and a 10-cent-per-ticket admissions tax. How much El Paso taxpayers will get stuck with at the end of the day, in other words, will depend less on the hotel/motel tax approved [November 8] and more on the picayune details of the lease.

No major obstacles standing in the way of Fehr school building preservation

The ordinance that would apply a "Historic Landmark Overlay" to the Fehr school building properties in Salemtown and prevent demolition or alteration with few nebulous exceptions was approved by the Metro Council tonight on second reading. There was a public hearing, but no one got up to join the debate for or against. That was the last major hurdle toward preserving a significant landmark in Nashville civil rights history. Once past public hearing, passage of bills on third and final reading is generally a foregone conclusion.

I've been blogging and working on this cause for years. In spite of the bill's limitations, it is a big step in the right direction for our neighborhood, Nashville, and history.