Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Facebook chatter on Germantown's Advance Financial

Metro planners were criticized a couple of weeks ago in a thread on the new predatory lending store (Advance Financial) going up in Germantown at Rosa Parks Boulevard and Jefferson Street. Of course, observers pointed out that predatory peddlers are always dumped into more transitional neighborhoods and that you would not see this happening in West Nashville.

One person insisted that a liquor store replacing the demolished gas station would have at least given something back to the North Nashville community rather than simply taking away.

Local jazz and blues column writer Ron Wynn was expressly concerned about about the lack of warning we got about the arrival of the lender:

The time to do something about this was before they got on the property. Where are the elected representatives for North Nashville and why did this happen without some comment from them? I don't blame the business. They are doing what business people always do, trying to maximize profit. But these things don't happen in other communities because they get stopped before they get started.

While I believe that our council member more than likely should shoulder some of the responsibility for her part in allowing this to happen without due diligence to the community, I also think that Mr. Wynn lets Advance Financial off the hook too easily. What he fails to include in the profit-maximizing equation is the political influence the lender flexes through the vehicle of campaign donations, full-time lobbying and leveraging public support. Advance Financial, after all, has its own "527" political advocacy committee (remember "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"?). This not just some shop owner trying to make an honest buck. Advance Financial is a player and the politicians predictably fall in line with the players' money.

And these things don't happen in other communities because other communities have either organized money or organized people to stop them. North Nashville needs more of the latter. Yet, any of us who stand up and argue that not all growth is good for our quality of life are often met with knee-jerk and baseless criticism from people who have issues with confrontation of and debate with Nashville's patrician class, the "job creators".

I do not disagree that we need more people here who are willing to be an early warning network of watchdogs digging up dirt that otherwise is spirited under the radar. I've curated and blogged (8 years last week!) with that as my intention.

A neighbor here in Salemtown who joined in the Facebook discussion quoted one of my previous blog posts on Germantown's new predator to point out that zoning, use and historic overlay requirements were all met by Advance Financial, making it legal. Mr. Wynn responded:

I can guarantee you that there are plenty of other places in this city where Advance Financial would have never gotten approval to set up where they are. They are directly across from the planned Black Music Museum. You think the city would let a predatory lending company establish itself across from the Country Music Foundation?

Point taken. But Advance Financial greases deals like this. They contributed thousands to the Germantown Street Festival. I believe that they could get a predatory lending company across from the CMF if they were willing to donate millions. Of course, that would fly in the face of the whole "maximizing profits" equation. But money changes everything. It can purchase anything in any part of town for the right price. In reality Advance Financial makes more from preying on working class and poor people, who are compelled to concentrate away from affluence. Putting Advance near the CMF makes bad business sense in an established tourism district, but if they needed to locate there the price would be higher than it is on Jeff Street.

Once a company has the zoning and the use requirements lined up and then the local neighborhood association cows to their money, how can they possibly be stopped?

Undeterred, Mr. Wynn seems to have an answer:

The killer here is that this MIGHT have been stopped if action was taken way back in the beginning. It's not like businesses have never been prevented from setting up shop in areas due to neighborhood opposition. But the opposition has to happen beforehand, and it has to be informed .... I didn't find out about this until it was already set in stone. Where are our (the community) sources with access to this type of information regarding who's obtaining property and for what purposes? You better believe anytime something is vacant, for sale or available in Brentwood or Belle Meade or even Madison it is closely tracked and people living in those communities are briefed and informed about possible buyers, businesses, firms, etc. I don't believe that the people of North Nashville would have stayed silent had they known what was happening in advance.

So, Advance Financial is not to blame for this deal, but "community sources" who did not properly warn North Nashville are? (Also, note that North Nashville, which has not been organized well enough to catch wind of these things and mobilize in the first place, is absolved from responsibility). Who are these community sources he demands step up? Campaign-financed politicians? Bought-out neighborhood associations? The incentives have already been handed out. Expecting them to go turncoat is unrealistic.

So, who is left to sound the early warning system? Neighborhood leaders and watchdogs unplugged from streams of influence?

In all fairness, waving red-flags about power moves in Nashville is highly risky. You can be ostracized as "conspiratorial". You can be stigmatized as "NIMBY". You can be ignored as someone who merely looks for a fight without higher goals. There is very little benefit in watchdogging in Nashville. After so many years of doing it through this blog, I do not blame anyone for not stepping up and sticking their necks out.

And there's the rub. If by "community sources" Ron Wynn is referring to ordinary people, why isn't he willing to step up and do the job himself? Why not start his own hyper-local blog?

Maybe because hosting your own neighborhood blog is tough and thankless? Neighborhood groups and watchdogs proliferated under the previous Mayor and his relatively robust Office of Neighborhoods. The focus on neighborhoods has died in Karl Dean's administration. The courthouse class effectively counters community watchdogs with communications specialists, PR flacks and rumors of anonymous trolls on online comment boards.

Speaking of flacks, there is no shortage of reporters who are willing to echo what they are fed about growth and development.

Journalists have colonized the blog lifeworld and they promote the dominant narrative there. The local blogosphere was at one time an alternative channel for voices that would convey news that the news media ignored. News companies now pay social media managers and enlist bloggers who gatekeep the legitimate voices more effectively than dead-tree versions could.

Hence, there are so many obstacles to the communication for which many of us wish before developments move from concept to reality.

We do need community watchdogs. We do not need unrealistic expectations about community watchdogs, who assume remarkable risks in service to the community.


  1. "You better believe anytime something is vacant, for sale or available in Brentwood or Belle Meade or even Madison"

    Hardly. These types of garbage businesses, along with tattoo shops and beer/cigarette stores have sprouted like weeds in Madison in the past few year. It's Madison-no one important gives a frak.

  2. just wait. there's an Advance Financial in practically every block on Nolensville Rd

  3. The fact is that people have a need met by short term lenders and check cashiers(they must live in your neighborhood). Yes, they are working class people and small business owners.
    The only way to get rid of them is to provide a better resource to the people that need the service.

  4. As I alluded above, assuming simplistic supply-demand models in a system where business influence is exercised by 527s and campaign donations is naive.

    Your way is not the only way. Strict campaign finance reforms and other checks and balances on the growing power of business to dictate policy are other ways to stop predatory lenders.

  5. " need met by short term lenders and check cashiers"

    I agree. These places only exist because banks, like Regions right across the street, don't want the business of the less affluent.