|Staying out of politics? Sounds fishy.|
And once again, this time at old Sulphur Dell, a developer has the upper hand in determining the fates of our local community.
Yesterday another shoe dropped in the stealthed saga of building a ballpark at Sulphur Dell. The Nashville Scene tells us that the motive for the Mayor's Office pushing this deal through is based on the position of the Nashville Sounds owner and real estate developer (what a one-two punch!) Frank Ward that he will not kick in what the Mayor sees as his share for development ($50 million) of the project if the deal is not done by December 31. But get this: he will not address the concerns of the unwashed masses because he prefers "to stay out of politics":
"So there's a timing issue there," he says. "Would I buy the land without a stadium being there? No"....
Administration officials say they're confident he will proceed with the private development, citing (frequently) his background in real estate. But Ward insists that keeping the project on track affects all the parties involved.
"There are a lot of balls in the air, and to all of a sudden let's call timeout, I think, would have drastic effects on everything that's trying to be accomplished," he says.
Asked about concerns that the public might not have time to weigh in on the project, Ward balks.
"I prefer to stay out of the politics," he says.
Got it? With the right hand, the club owner seems to be discouraging vital, but messy democracy and a more public process of community development and urban planning. But with the left hand, he insists that he is not engaging in politics. I would argue that discouraging public participation in the planning of a new ballpark is in fact very much staying in politics. It is the community planning equivalent of voter suppression. I would also argue the ignoring community concerns (especially those raised in October at the Farmers' Market) is a form of politics that developers exercise all the time to keep the upper hand in financial dealings.
The Mayor's Office insists that they can find someone else to assume the $50 million development cost if Mr. Ward does not follow through (he is under no contractual obligation to do so). If they are being honest with us, then why does Metro have to shrink its timeline to accommodate a developer who may not even pay the $50 million if the ballpark is approved before Dec. 31? Who is actually in charge here?
And while you ponder that one, consider this: the argument that the Mayor's Office makes about being easily able to find developers to pony up tens of millions lost if this developer balks is like the position it took during construction of Music City Center. Reality at the convention center has been different. Karl Dean now uses tax abatements to lure developers, costing us more money for his huge brick-and-mortar prize.
I'm an avid baseball fan. I've been a loyal supporter of the Nashville Sounds ball club for two decades. I've attended games. I've been a season ticket holder. I've given them free publicity by blogging them. I don't see that support changing in the future. Developers are after all, perennially going to act like developers. Baseball will still be baseball.
And believe you me, as a Salemtown property owner I am committed to seeing smart, balanced growth in my neighborhood, prompted by more walkable options here.
However, when the ball club decides it wants to be my neighbor and when it asks for special treatment and exceptions in the community planning process without addressing my questions on how their changes are going to affect my family's quality of life, I am not going to go along quietly with them. To passively go along with the ball club when so much substance is at stake would be to engage in politics.
UPDATE: Nashville Scene follows up on the story with news that an amendment will be introduced to obligate the Sounds to pay a penalty each year the $50 million tract of land stays undeveloped. I tend to believe that developers always ought to be obligated to put skin the game if they are serious about making money.