Monday, September 30, 2013

Mayor Karl Dean's new ballpark could be a threat to Germantown's historic Geist House and archeological sites at Sulphur Dell

Historic Nashville, Inc. announced its annual "Nashville Nine" at a press conference at the Frist this morning. The list represents nine historic properties threatened by demolition, neglect or development. I was not surprised at all to learn that Germantown's Geist House and Blacksmith Shop on Jefferson Street was listed among the endangered properties. It has been endangered for as long as I can remember. But what stood out was the organization's latest reason for putting the historic structures on their most endangered list:

This property has recently come under new ownership. The new owner(s) and their intentions for the property are unknown. The threat to the Geist House is elevated and significant. Beyond the evident maintenance issues and uncertainty over the future of this property, recent news reports indicate that new development including a new minor-league baseball stadium might border or encompass this site. HNI hopes that developers of the new stadium complex and those subsequently developing the surrounding areas will take into account this historic property and include these historic buildings within the new development, making use of tax credits and preservation easements to ensure the future stability of these buildings. The proposed ballpark also endangered potential prehistoric and historic archaeological sites identified by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology.

Endangered Geist & Sons buildings
Again, we cannot assume that Mayor Dean is taking any pains to protect the history of our area, because he has not bothered to share with us any plans to do so. He is pushing ahead with lobbying the State of Tennessee, and the main question between them is reportedly whether the red state will get more parking spots if they give land to Metro for a ballpark.

Growth in and of itself is not necessarily good, especially when that growth destroys historical landmarks and threatens archaeological sites.

Will a new Sulphur Dell ballpark bring more gentrification or will it spur sensitive revival?

The tensions that come with profound change and growth are mirrored in the comments of two North Nashville leaders with very different priorities and visions for "nexting" along Jefferson Street.

Jefferson Street became great once from humble beginnings and could do so again in the future, said [Ed] Kindall, who was born in a house on Jefferson Street in 1945 and has lived in the community most of his life.

He just wants to see some of the past preserved when the community comes back.

“It’s not that we don’t want Jefferson Street to be pretty,” he said. “We just don’t want it to be gentrified.”

Sharon Hurt, president of the Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership, sees hope for Jefferson Street in the plans for a new Sounds stadium at the Sulphur Dell location.

The proposed Sulphur Dell project would border Jefferson Street near Fourth and Fifth avenues. Hurt said the project would bring jobs to the community and could spark a revival for Jefferson Street.

“This could be the beginning of the rebirth of North Nashville,” she said.

I generally find myself on the opposite side from Sharon Hurt on most issues affecting the neighborhoods just a few blocks from Jefferson Street business corridor.

She supported the failed plan to build a "second Downtown" (May Town Center) on North Nashville's urban farmland, Bells Bend. She supported the decision of the National Museum of African American Music to abandon its logical location on Jefferson Street for honky-tonked Lower Broadway. Now Ms. Hurt raves about the Mayor's ballpark project without expressing any of the questions former school board member Kindall raises about untrammeled, insensitive gentrification.

I share Mr. Kindall's concerns on this score. I wonder how a new ballpark can help but destroy historical and cultural qualities of North Nashville in a headlong rush to drive up real estate prices and gentrify without careful planning and input by the whole community beyond business interests. Growth at all costs based on the ambitions of the few will do us more harm than good. The history of Jefferson Street deserves better treatment and consideration.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

State of Tennessee most concerned about adding more parking for more cars with a new Sulphur Dell ballpark

Mayor Karl Dean pow-wowed with Tennessee's Republican Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey to lobby for a new ballpark on state-owned land at Sulphur Dell (near Bicentennial Mall State Park). Currently, the only transit plan Hizzoner has for the site is not much of one: it has the fans driving their own cars to games, which seems to be right up the Republican Speaker of the Senate's alley. Lt. Gov. Ramsey wants Mayor Dean to give him more black top:

The state's primary concern is with how much additional parking it can get by giving the city some of its property, said Ramsey. He said the city has agreed to add more parking spots to accommodate the state.

“The person that wants it gives up a little bit more and I want to make sure that’s what we end up doing,” Ramsey told the Post. “I think there will be a solution to this.

“Obviously, I think it would be an economic development tool here for Nashville and I’m a huge baseball fan myself and I agree the Sounds need another stadium. But my job is to protect the state’s interest in this and to make sure that if we’re donating some land, that we get something at least equal if not greater in value back. And so we’re looking at the parking garage and everything else there that can come with that.”


"Equal or greater value" logically means more cars on the roads around Jefferson Street, Rosa Parks Boulevard and the adjacent North End neighborhoods. If you provide more spaces for parking, then the cars are going to come. How is that a sustainable or complete-street transit plan for game nights?

Do Nashville Next now or else: Tuesday next you will have much less influence over what Nashville will be like in 2040

Planning with post-it notes
A number of well-intentioned, honest people I know are participating in Nashville Next. I respect their participation but after years of participating in the processes that Metro Planning has said they used to maximize community input to determine growth and development for our neighborhoods, I do not have faith that the new process is anything but a glossy distraction to authentic democratic processes that I can actually believe in.

I also question whether all of the past participation by community leaders is now rendered moot by what looks like a gimmick with post-it notes, giveaways and a spinning wheel. From the outside looking in, it looks like a sideshow with barkers pulling people in with promises of influence with little in the past to warrant validity of their word. If you keep one eye on community plans and the other on the machinery of Metro government, you know that the former is consistently compromised by the exceptions developers and property owners plead for themselves.

More post-it notes
When planners market Nashville Next by saying thousands have given feedback and influenced the process, I have to wonder what it was about the past community planning processes that I participated in that no longer applies. I understand that community plans last 10 years whereas Nashville Next is supposed to last 25 years. I understand that planners are attempting to shoot for a countywide context to frame future neighborhood development discussions.

However, after watching so many compromises made by the Planning Commission and by the Metro Council to the integrity of past community plans, I have to wonder whether a larger plan with a farther horizon is even more susceptible to death by a thousand exceptions in favor of developers who have money and lawyers on their side. I also am not sold on the proposition that supplanting an organic neighborhood context for sustained growth with a countywide context is warranted. Regional growth is happening and residents have and will have little control over it. We are more realistically going to exercise influence in our neighborhoods than we are in Davidson County or in the Middle Tennessee region.

I received an email this week from a Nashville Next proponent suggesting that participating in Nashville Next means thinking like a planner or developer. While I do share some of the values of planners and developers to a greater or lesser degree, I do not think like planners or developers when I consider quality-of-life issues in my city. And why should I? Isn't learning about our different priorities why we talk to one another in community meetings on growth? Why should I not come to these meetings thinking as a resident or as a neighborhood leader or as a member of particular communities would? Nashville Next claims to be interested in diversity, so why can't I come as I am? More importantly, why should not planners and developers be required to think in terms of the values of my affinity groups if we are all equal players in this game that Nashville Next has afoot?

The nexting wheel
Asking me to think like a planner and developer seems to be setting me up later when planners and developers want to make changes to the plan that the community supposedly influenced that curb the policies more closely to their priorities. Developers in particular have financial and political muscle to make that happen. Within a regional context, the power of neighborhoods to resist them is dissipated and diffused.

And does it strike anyone else as premature that the cut-off date for community input on priorities a 25-year plan is September 30, 2013? Why put a deadline on a 25-year plan? Do you think developers are going to adhere to this deadline and not try and influence Nashville Next in the future? Nashville Next was kicked off in mid-February. Is it even realistic to place my faith in a 7-month process to chart the next 25 years?

I do not question the intentions of the many folks who want to have faith in the process. I question what is going to happen to their priorities once their window of participation closes. I am concerned about what happens to Nashville Next after it moves out of the forum stage to the back rooms of the policy makers and politicos who take it upon themselves to interpret the priorities of the community. And as they interpret the priorities, to whom are they accountable? The public that has been informing community plans for decades? The elected officials running government and Nashville's corporate elites who finance those officials' campaigns for office?

Nashville Next organizers are fond of saying that anyone who cares about Nashville is invited to attend and to discuss. (We all know that access to influencing policy is not that easy, and it gets particularly harder the lower in the class structure one goes.) I care about Nashville. But I do not care to join in a planning process that has yet to earn my trust. There are many priorities in community plans that are still unrealized, and now I am faced with Nashville Next, which further marginalizes neighborhood plans with a focus on regional priorities. The next step is a step too far for me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Titanic feudal peonage

A long time ago Nashville started paying subsidies, including millions out of each year's Metro Water budget, to attract and keep the Houston Oilers / Tennessee Titans here. Supporters acknowledge that the economic impact of pro sports teams is negligible, given the subsidies, but somehow, their logic stipulates, the community spirit teams create (when they win, of course) makes the financial expense worth the blow to the pocketbook.

But given an October Atlantic article about how the public subsidies alone (without ticket sales or merchandising revenues) make a few people wealthy beyond the unending wealth they already possess, how good can the transaction be for the community?

Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements. When ongoing costs are added, Long’s research finds, the ... Tennessee Titans have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities. Long’s estimates show that just three NFL franchises—the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets—have paid three-quarters or more of their stadium capital costs.

Almost none of the NFL football teams are publicly owned. All are owned by wealthy families, which means that Bud Adams, owner of the Titans, is "converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite."

Say what you will about the so-called "intangible" benefits of having a professional team in your city. The feudal lords of the National Football League soak up most of the tangible benefits that the NFL's serf-cities hand them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Charlie Tygard's ongoing infatuation with signs enabled by Metro Council approval of ads in parks

Erectile dysfunction ads are everywhere else, so why not in parks?

It's a vicious circle: the Mayor's Office will not fully fund Metro Parks, which leaves Metro Parks to scramble to come up with other ways to get revenues, which prompts council members--with buddies in the sign business or corporate donors looking at every possible marketing angle--to pitch privatizing in order to bring parks more money without holding the Mayor responsible for fully funding parks. Since Metro Council operates in such a vicious circle--made more vicious by a Mayor who has proposed and generated budget-busting capital projects--it must have been welcome relief to the blundering herd that CM at-Large Charlie Tygard pitched his latest smoke-and-mirrors pretense to help out Metro Parks.

With little debate Metro Council has approved this bill not once, but twice. Approval on third reading will open parks' gates to advertisers, large and small. The rationale is that our green space is growing so much that alternative sources of funding need to be found. However, Karl Dean has slashed parks programming by authorizing cuts to community center hours since he first took office. Hence, this move will likely lower expectations for increases in public revenues for parks. It will place the onus on Metro Parks to hire sales staff to market ad space in parks to corporate clients. It fits right in with the privatizing that the Dean administration has already done in other municipal services like public schools.

Rationalizing advertisements and signs by minimizing their impact is not a new tactic for CM Tygard. In 2007 he tried to justify putting car washes in residential neighborhoods by insisting that the signs advertising the businesses would be "attractive, monument-style" signs, as if comely signs would convince neighbors to accept car washes nearby. In 2009 he led the fight for LED signs in residential neighborhoods and he repeated over and over that they would not be large or flashing, as if that would never be an eventuality if allowed. In 2013 he promises no neon signs on the Parthenon (according to his sign-making buddy, Bobby Joslin, LED light strips are "alternative to neon", so maybe they'll look better in Centennial Park) and he issues talking points on signs that he predicts people will not see in parks:

The bill would give the parks board the power to create rules about ads and sponsorships. That would give the board the power to not accept ads from booze or cigarette companies, for example, or strip clubs.

“I don’t think we want to tackle the condom manufacturers,” Tygard said.

No? Well, what about predatory lenders, one of whom is Nashville's second fastest growing company (and a major campaign donor)? Is allowing ads from companies who market high-interest loans to park patrons who may be at vulnerable moments but who cannot afford them better governance than allowing Trojan to market condoms? It is interesting that CM Tygard was quick to prohibit ads that may or may not involve personal vices, but not ads that may or may not involve corporate irresponsibility.

Again, generating and justifying these alternative funding schemes that benefit his friends in the private sector has always been CM Tygard's M.O. And he has been downright hostile in the past toward publicly funding green spaces: during its construction Mr. Tygard derided the Courthouse Public Square as a "monument to government". This time the Metro Council is going along with his scheme.

Will people care when they start to see visual clutter in parks like signs with, "This mulch trail is brought to you by Waste Management"? Not likely. But it will stand as a precedent to allow Metro Parks to expand ads and increase their clientele later. Restricted ad space will likely generate greater competition and bigger offers that Metro Parks may have problems resisting. Look at the logic of the marketplace: smaller signs give way to larger signs. And who knows. One day we may begin to see illumination and LEDs on ads in parks as the first wave of private ads will have done the job of desensitizing us to more intrusive marketing that is bound to follow after the money rolls in.

Monday, September 23, 2013

"Capitol District" exists in the minds of Realtors and developers

Compare and contrast:

The Tennessean's latest on "the hot" and "the new".

Capitol District not very hot or new online. It's a dead website.


The best you can do online is view a screenshot of Capitol District over here. The organization's Facebook page is still live, but it has not been updated since last May.

The Tennessean is more actively branding Capitol District than the organization's founders are at this point. I continue to find the brand bland and boring, and I never hear people on my street talking up "Capitol District". To use the language of markets, effective branding requires stakeholder buy-in.

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Voices of Nashville" to play in North Nashville in October



The Tennessee Women's Theater Project sent me the following announcement regarding cultural events here in the North Nashville community (Z. Alexander Looby Theater, 2301 Rosa L. Parks Blvd, Nashville 37228), which in the spirit of community service, I commend to you:

Tennessee Women’s Theater Project offers two firsts and an eighth for its 2013-14 season: the world premiere of a play commissioned by the company, followed by the regional premiere of the 2013 Tony® Award winner for Best Play and the 8th annual Women’s Work Festival of performing and visual arts works created by women.

The season kicks off with Voices of Nashville, by local playwrights Christine Mather and Sara Sharpe. This original documentary theater piece explores the experience of immigration in our region through the eyes of Nashville’s new Americans. The show runs 11 performances over three weekends at Nashville’s Looby Theater, from October 4 through October 20.

Inspiration for the commissioning of Voices of Nashville came from the "dramatic increase in Nashville's immigrant population" and it represents an attempt to help Nashvillians meet one another in "the non-threatening environment of the theater".

Here are the relevant details to seeing Voices of Nashville:

Info Phone: (615) 681-7220

Ticket link: www.twtp.org


Voices of Nashville dates: October 4 – 20, 2013

Times:
7:30 pm on October 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 & 19
7:30 pm on October 10 and 17 – all seats $10
2:30 pm on October 6, 13 & 20

Tickets: Adults $15, Students & Seniors (60+) $12 All seats $10 on Thursday evenings Group: Adults $12 each, Students & Seniors $10 each. Available for groups of 10 or more, in any combination of ticket categories – group sales, call 615-681-7220

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do the comparatives clearly indicate what kind of ballpark $40 million would build?

We have nothing but pipe dreams and promises of cash so far on Mayor Karl Dean's idyllic project for a Sulphur Dell ballpark. The journalists worth their salt have started asking questions about ballpark costs and risk along with the query of what exactly we are going to get for the money laid down for Sulphur Dell (the sequel).

Take J.R. Lind. He's looked around at other minor league ballparks that fall within or not far outside the Mayor's projected $40 million cap. Other recently-built Triple-A stadiums would blow Karl Dean's budget save for Werner Park (home to the Pacific Coast League's Omaha Storm Chasers). According to Lind, Werner Park was built for $36 million. If you exclude a grass berm in the Omaha outfield, conventional or permanent seats at Werner Park come nowhere close to Greer Stadium's 10,000 capacity.

Little sprawl on the prairie
However a closer look at more of the details about Werner Park cause me to wonder whether it is a good financial comparison with a Sulphur Dell project. The Omaha stadium is not urban. It looks like it sits on the prairie. In fact, the Storm Chasers left their old city ballpark to move 15 miles outside of Omaha. Werner Park looks like it took its cue from the Major League's Ballpark in Arlington: an attractive stadium built in the middle of a large empty plain to spur more suburban sprawl away from cities. Since there is no city around each of those developments, builders have other developments to urbanize those ballparks. In the case of Werner Park, the plans include mixed-use "Pennant Place". The short-term benefit for Werner Park is that developers realize a project that's cheaper than one they would build in city neighborhoods where prices are higher.

But that is precisely where cracks in comparisons between Werner Park and Dean's Sulphur Dell emerge. A new Sounds ballpark in the North Capitol area is going to be more expensive to build. This is no slam on Lind's points about the ballpark budget, but $40 million would not nearly buy near Downtown Nashville what it would buy in suburban Omaha.

Werner Park is also surrounded by the standard sea-of-asphalt surface parking, a relatively cheap way to store privately-owned vehicles. Reportedly, no mass transit runs between Omaha and the ballpark, so fans have to drive themselves. Mayor Dean is proposing a parking garage, which he hopes the state will build. If the state does build it we would not have to consider the fact of its greater relative expense (Nashville has very stubborn, rocky soil, by the way). But the transit question may show a parallel: Mayor Dean has expressed no transit plan beyond a parking garage to move people to and from Sulphur Dell. All of his mass transit eggs are in the East-West Bus Rapid Transit Connector, which will not serve points north and south.

Just as people drive to and park at Werner Park, so they would drive to and park at Sulphur Dell. That is not a problem on the prairie. It is a huge problem for high-density urban neighborhoods.

Above all, Mayor Dean cannot just slap something down on an empty canvas like one would on the prairie. He should consider the character of Downtown neighborhoods, Bicentennial Mall, Jefferson Street, the Cumberland River banks and every neighborhood between Sulphur Dell and MetroCenter.

But let us assume for a second that we could build a Sulphur Dell inspired by a similarly priced ballpark like Werner Park. Guess what? The Omaha development does not seem to be making the huge economic impact promised by developers and county politicians, who "tapped tax revenues" to fund the ballpark as a "stimulus package". The prairie is not giving way to retail, office space, restaurants, residential, or entertainment as promised when Werner Park was a concept, despite the fact that over $800,000 in municipal funds were spent to run water and sewer lines in.

This begs the question of how much Metro might have to pay to upgrade its ancient North Nashville water/sewer lines for a new Sulphur Dell development. And it is clear from the Werner Park experiment that idyllic dreams of a new field do not necessarily translate to benefits that ripple out in new development and growth.

But there remains the nagging reality that to find a Triple-A ballpark construction budget comparable to what Karl Dean wants to build at Sulphur Dell, we had to look to cheaper suburbia. I fail to see how $40 million will pay for anything close to it here.


UPDATE: Nashville Business Journal dreams the possibilities based on a slideshow of "other cities' ballparks", including the Major League ballpark in Baltimore, which cost $110 million to build 21 years ago. More like impossible dreams?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The real-life impact of a new ballpark absent the unsustainable promises

A woman who has lived in the South Bronx for 35 years (the last 9 of which have been near the new Yankee Stadium) shares her experiences, and we fail to take heed of her view at our own peril:

There was no significant community input into how our neighborhood could co-exist with the new stadium. Our voices were silenced by elected officials who accused us of not wanting any development.

As a resident I have witnessed and indeed lived in the snarling traffic that consumes our neighborhood. As a taxpayer I strongly object to subsidizing garages to bring more traffic to an area that is trying to rebound as a good place to bring up children.

We were told the new stadium would bring economic development and a resurgence to our community.

I invite you to take a walk around the neighborhood and see for yourself if that has happened. Businesses have closed and the remaining ones are hurting as the Yankee organization has moved many of the services inside the stadium.

The NYPD has become super-aggressive on game days by blocking streets with no prior warning and posting police officers all around the neighborhood. Streets with posted signs of “no parking on game day” are closed off to the community while fans are charged to park on these same streets where parking is normally legal and free.

The sanitation trucks circle all day, emptying trash (this would be a wonderful service for residents!). The community is host to numerous parking garages and lots that are open only on game day and of no use to us otherwise.

Mayor Dean has already said that neighborhood input on Sulphur Dell will take a backseat to his own interests. Ballpark boosters already falsely throw charges at ballpark realists like me about how we just do not want development in our backyard ("NIMBY"). Some of us have been raising red flags about potential traffic and parking problems in our dense urban neighborhoods.

But I should underscore her observations that businesses are closing due to services provided inside the stadium development. We have not talked enough about the potential negative economic impact on area stores and restaurants due to the self-enclosed, self-sufficient organization of contemporary ballparks. They are more amusement parks and mixed-use retail than they are sports venues. Hence, they try to be all and end all for customers. Hence, they may pull customers away from Jefferson Street and away from Germantown. Local business owners should not be lulled or deceived into believing that more fans at a new ballpark will translate into a wave of patrons for them. This will not be like Oktoberfest (or Germantown Street Festival).

Salemtown and Germantown better start counting of the costs of the Mayor's plan as well as embracing its benefits. We better start paying attention to neighborhoods elsewhere who have these new sports venues in their midst. If we fail to vet the impact fully we will only be hurting ourselves in the long run.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A problem looming on Salemtown's horizon

East Nashville reserves parking for neighbors.
West Nashville reserves parking for neighbors.
At the last Salemtown neighborhood association meeting a Metro Police officer told us about changes likely coming to Germantown streets. After spending some time working to persuade his superiors about the problem of traffic choking Taylor St. and overflowing onto 7th Av. N. and 6th Av. N. due to the wildly popular restaurant, Rolf and Daughters, he believes that the department is prepared to restrict parking on Taylor between 5th Av. N. and Rosa Parks Blvd. to one side of the road. That would be a welcome change to those of us who have tried to navigate the narrow road in our vehicles between a closely set gauntlet of parked vehicles. However, it is also bound to lead to increased parking challenges on the side streets as residents will vie with bar patrons for remaining open spots.

The parking problems caused on Taylor by inbound restaurant patrons should be a wake-up call for those of us who live north of Germantown: parking in a neighborhood that generally does not have driveways is going to become more problematic. We need to start working on solutions like other Nashville neighborhoods have.

The problems will be compounded if mixed-use retail and dining establishments spread into Salemtown. There is a plan for mixed use at the hulking new Werthan Flats development at the other end of the block from Rolf and Daughters, right on Salemtown's doorstep. The apartment dwellers of the Flats and their visitors will themselves surely overflow into Salemtown. I am aware of attempts already made to launch a new restaurant on 6th Ave in Salemtown, which will cause considerable congestion around the adjacent blocks. When I served on the citizen advisory committee for Salemtown's block grant, we recommended putting the same traffic calming bulb-outs that 5th and 7th enjoy on 6th, but Metro disapproved, saying that 6th is too narrow for bulb-outs. If it is too narrow for traffic calming features, it might just be too narrow for residents to park alongside the traffic congestion caused by restaurants. The northern part of Salemtown will not be spared as Salemtown Cottages, an urban-density development offering 2 dozen units north of Buchanan St., is set for launch.

Add to that the Mayor's plan for a ballpark a few blocks away set to open in 2015. We will be overrun by automobile traffic with no guarantees of places to park near our homes.

Opposes parking permits on public streets.
These problems are compounded by the fact that our council member Erica Gilmore has said that she opposes any reserved residential parking on public streets (or so she told me at a recent community meeting when I brought the question up to her). She enthusiastically supports the Mayor's ballpark, but she flatly opposes residential permits. Yet, permits could give residents who live near the ballpark a fighting chance for convenient parking spaces even when they come home from work or from picking their kids up from soccer practice late on a Sounds' game night. If CM Gilmore is going to reject residential permits out-of-hand, then she should propose alternative solutions to the looming problem.

In my opinion, Salemtown should be proactive about this problem before it overtakes us. We need to start planning parking provisions for the people who live here to balance the flood of people who would come in as we grow. We need to work together to persuade our council member that she should represent residents' interests and not just the interests of retail establishments that fill in the mixed-use and strive to pull in more customers in automobiles. We need to show up at planning meetings in order to make clear when developers want to rezone for restaurants--on 6th or anywhere else--that they need to make traffic mitigation, parking plans and support for reserved residential parking priorities in their plans in exchange for our support.

Above all, we need to ask out loud, "Why is reserved residential parking on public streets good for Nashvillians to the east and to the west, but bad for their neighbors to the north?"

Monday, September 09, 2013

A special anniversary in Salemtown history

On this day 56 years ago, 4 children desegregated Salemtown's Fehr School, braving the taunts and threats of segregationists and KKK members while walking a mob-gauntlet. There also were threats of bombing the building.

On this day 2 years ago, Historic Nashville, Inc. held a news conference on the steps of Fehr proclaiming it one of Nashville's most endangered buildings in need preservation.

Around that time we started a petition to save Fehr. That petition leveraged a historic landmark overlay for it and the Warner House building behind it; the overlay was passed by the Metro Council and signed by the Mayor nearly one year ago.

Today we remember the ones whose nerve made Fehr School a very special place in Salemtown history. We also rededicate ourselves to preserving that history so that Nashville never forgets.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The ongoing nextification of Salemtown

When this Tennessean piece appeared earlier in the summer, I lashed out at it in a blog post I did not publish. Now that there is some distance, I'm ready to reflect on its merits to my neighborhood in a more critical, composed way. On with the reflections.

Sometimes I am really glad I have been blogging for so long on Nashville, and particularly, on my part of Nashville. This blog is always a reminder of my actual experience here free from the filters and spin of people who have only recently "discovered" Salemtown. The selling of Salemtown as "new and hot" has been going on for so many years that it is an old, rehearsed refrain. I wrote blog posts in 2006 on how the news media framed our neighborhood as an attractive new option. Does new ever stop being new?

Before last year the latest in a line of coming-and-going real estate reporters at the Tennessean, Bill Lewis (who also wrote an unfortunate piece about "pioneers taking over" the neighborhood) did not even know what Salemtown was. Now he is writing about the community without interviewing long-time residents (and, no, I'm not talking about myself) who have a different point of view than the newbs-in-the-hood. The ex-president of the association whom Lewis quotes wonders why Salemtown "didn't catch on a decade ago", as if she was here a decade ago (she was not) when others of us were moving here because it was a diverse neighborhood of porches already.

Lewis interviews a newly arrived, fresh, young developer to the Salemtown scene. Since I have not met her she is just another number to me because I've crossed paths with dozens of developers since moving here. But we will not be getting off to a good start, given her developers' spin of Salemtown as once a "fringe" neighborhood that has morphed in to a community of rooftop hot tubs. Did Bill Lewis actually count the number of rooftop hot tubs in Salemtown before writing his story? How many hot tubs--rooftop or not--do we actually have in Salemtown? Do hot tubs determine quality?

It is worth noting that Lewis used the same formula two years ago to market what realtors randomly started calling "Historic West Town" (a neighborhood widely known as "The Nations"), sans hot-tub branding. According to one source, The Nations may not even be "Historic". Apparently, the next, big thing is not to deviate from the "hot" potential of transitional (or is that "emerging"?) neighborhoods by using a maelstrom of floating signifiers. (The Lewis hotness coefficient was also applied to the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood last May).

As for Salemtown, the notion of being called "fringe" by a developer sticks in the craw of my preference for diversity. When I hear developers rationalize their benign neglect (perhaps even a collective, de facto red-lining?) of certain North Nashville neighborhoods with terms like "fringe", I wonder if it is code. I ask myself whether "fringe" is just code for "Salemtown is not yet enough of a eroded, homogenized, white-washed lifestyle draw on which we might build". Money-makers shake with or without diversity.

Our family moved here from Historic Edgefield in East Nashville almost 10 years ago. At the time Edgefield had a much higher crime rate (and less diversity) than Salemtown did, and yet, it was hardly considered "fringe" by developers, who were pushing prices to unreasonable heights before it all came crashing down with housing bubble. In my book that shows just how arbitrary and capricious marketing signifiers are.

Another Nashville journo, J.R. Lind, coined the terms "nexting" and "nextification" to represent and to criticize our city's dogged obsession with the next, big thing. Outside of Lind, though, prominent voices in the news media, especially the ones who report on real estate, embrace the nextification of neighborhoods like ours without a second thought. That is the most troubling aspect of growth: not merely that developers try to rewrite who we are, but that papers like the Tennessean give the fictions implicit facticity to an audience who may not know any better. Thanks to them, Salemtown never stops emerging and nexting.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

In the interest of full disclosure

Several years ago Hope Gardens association president Jason Powell contacted North End community leaders to bring together "champions" whom he said could give life to a plan for a new ballpark in the North Capitol area. The "champions" never really materialized as a bona fide grassroots movement here. The "champions'" Facebook page lay dormant for 2 years before cranking up again with the Mayor's formal announcement several weeks ago. Now, as a prominent Democrat and State Representative from south Davidson County's 53rd District (but still a cheerleader without a grassroots ballpark movement), he celebrates news of the Mayor's Sulphur Dell announcement:



It may very well be a big fly for local property owners, especially since the news media is passing around projections that land values here will soar:

The impact a new ballpark could have on that area will be similar... [to] the ripple effect Music City Center had on SoBro, where property values have in some cases tripled in recent years.

If the project becomes official, look for property values to initially jump around 15 percent, [real estate broker Grant] Hammond said. Once construction is underway, Hammond expects prices to climb again, about 25 percent higher than now. Once completed and the buzz of the new stadium is at its peak, Hammond anticipates values will be up about 50 percent from today.

Hammond, who was planning on selling one of his investment properties in Germantown next spring, said he now plans to hold on to the condo until the first season of baseball in the new stadium.

“It could be a remarkable little ride for Germantown,” Hammond said.

With Germantown already flourishing, the biggest impact might be most noticeable in the area’s other neighborhoods.

“Hope Gardens and Buena Vista are seriously underdeveloped,” Hammond said. “That all turns around the moment they open the stadium doors. Those neighborhoods need some sort of big development to be the spark.”


After looking at the Metro property records, I can certainly understand why State Representative Jason Powell is excited about a new ballpark; he co-owns 3 properties located in Hope Gardens and 1 located at Buena Vista Heights/Jones Buena Vista. These are both neighborhoods that are identified as the biggest gainers from a new ballpark. Hope Gardens itself lies blocks away. String half-a-dozen Prince Fielder home runs together end-to-end, and Hope Gardens is that close to Sulphur Dell.

All of us who own property close to a new ballpark stand to benefit financially from a rise in property values a new development would bring. So, I do not blame the Democrat for acquiring investment properties over the last 4 years with hopes that their values will rise even though he does not dwell here any more. However, those of us who continue to live here have to worry about more than a return on real estate. We have to worry about protecting our families' quality of life from malignant growth and shortsighted planning. We have to demand smart, managed growth and planning for sustainability and respect for community character.

I'll say it again: I acknowledge Jason Powell's right to buy up as many properties as he wants and maximize their value to his heart's content. It is America, after all. I also acknowledge his right as a state legislator to maximize his relationship with the coattails of Mayor Karl Dean, who admittedly is the Tennessee Democratic Party's great red-state hope to beat a Republican somewhere sometime in the future. Bucking Karl Dean on a ballpark would not help a guy still fresh in his first state office (after running and losing here in our North Nashville district) and still flush with political aspirations.

But the quaintly walkable tableau that Jason Powell illustrated 3 years ago--as a spokesperson from my community to a Tennessean audience--now rings hollow, given that he presently lives close to the Nashville Zoo and leaves his real estate next to Sulphur Dell:


The neighborhoods, businesses and developments around Sulphur Dell are vibrant, supportive of a new ball park and poised for further growth. Downtown work­ers and residents, in addition to the surrounding neighborhoods of Germantown, Buena Vista, Salemtown and Hope Gardens and condos in the Sulphur Dell area, have the popula­tion to anchor attendance at games.

The location is already well-suited for professional baseball. Imagine grabbing a meal in Ger­mantown or at the Farmers Market, then relaxing at Bicentennial Mall before strolling to the ballpark to catch a game ....


If you build it we will stroll. Well, some of us will stroll. Rep. Powell will not because he no longer lives here. He owns property here. He will be driving to Sounds games at Sulphur Dell.

That is a proposition different than what our neighborhoods will actually face with the onslaught of traffic, the absence of transit plans, the ulterior motives of developers and the shifting goalposts of the community planning process along with the politicians who debase it. At least he has the certainty of greater property value without the challenges of living next to a large entertainment venue. Even so, he also should disclose the fact of his holdings whenever he uses the visibility of his office to tout the new Sulphur Dell.

Whether or not a Sulphur Dell ballpark might be a home run for all of us who live around it is still up in the air. For State Representative Powell it would appear to be more of a walk-off home run.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Reporter asks grown-up questions about the proposed ballpark and its impact on the Germantown neighborhood

In America we worship the novel. We bow to the next, big thing. The new bauble that captures our attention and curiosity. And what is true about America is triply true of Nashville. The culture here will wipe the old completely away in a mad dash to get to that next, big thing (and sometimes make the new look old to rationalize the obliteration).

So, naturally, when the Mayor dangles a new ballpark in front of us, we're smitten. And the news media no less.

Except that the Nashville Post's sports commentator, J.R. Lind is already asking questions, to his credit:


The very practical how-do-we-pay-for-it question has yet to be answered, with the mayor's office saying they aren't ready to share it, though if they truly have been talking about a Sulphur Dell site since Opening Day in April, there's reason to believe they have a pretty good idea of the funding mechanism. All anyone is saying is that the Sounds will make a significant contribution (what that means is, naturally, left vague) with the balance to be paid by...taxpayers? Local businesses in the form of some kind of fee? A TIF ["Tax Increment Financing"]? We don't know.

Generally, the idea of putting sports facilities in places where people either will go if they have a reason or already go is a good idea. The business owners on Lower Broadway are more than happy to tell you how much more robust their revenues are on nights when the Predators are at the arena. Putting the stadium on Jackson Avenue builds a bit of a bridge to Germantown with its restaurants and so forth. But Germantown is a residential area in a way downtown is not. Injecting 17,000 people into the entertainment district of Lower Broad 41 nights a year is one thing. Injecting 8,400 into a largely residential area 70-some-odd times a summer is a whole 'nother can of bananas.

Philosophically, one wonders when all the Nexting stops. Less than a week after news of the ballpark leaked, Mayor Karl Dean announced plans for further riverfront development. There was no breather, no delay. There's an $80 million Sulphur Dell project and a $30 or $40 million project on the river. How many things does downtown need? When will downtown stop needing new things?


These are important questions to which those of us who are immediately affected by a new ballpark should demand Hizzoner's answers. Those of us in Salemtown will feel the "Nexting" impact, too We have to hold the Mayor's Office responsible for handling our future responsibly and not just opportunistically.


UPDATE:  I recently spoke with a business owner in the area who expressed concern that businesses within the new ballpark campus itself could actually drain patrons away from our neighborhood businesses before, during, and after games in the summertime.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

How Karl Dean chooses to spend federal flood money has an impact our neighborhoods

Dean's bauble: the real reason for a ballpark announcement
The reason that a possible deal between Metro, the Sounds, and the state for a new Sulphur Dell ballpark was announced was to clear the way for this week's announcement of a new amphitheater and park at the former thermal site (effectively bumping the ballpark). I cannot prove that claim is true. But I would bet six ways to Sunday that it is.

Whether the Sounds were willing to make the move to North Capitol or whether Hizzoner simply played his hand out until the Sounds felt forced to acquiesce, we may never know. We do know that a lot of old Nashville wealth is behind flipping the thermal site to open space for outdoor orchestra concerts.

The Mayor will pay for this high-society playground in part by flipping flood relief funds to pay for a wall and a "promenade":

The mayor put the estimated cost of the project at between $30 and $40 million, but stressed that his administration is not seeking new funds. The Metro Council has approved about $35 million for riverfront redevelopment on the west bank as part of three previous capital spending plans. And last month, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency approved the reallocation of $7.1 million in federal flood relief. The former flood aid will be put toward the construction of the flood wall along the promenade.

So, the rest of Nashville is no longer in need of federal flood damage relief? We cannot find any other projects around Nashville that might help the everyday lives of average people? What about these folks in Madison or BordeauxOr how about this guy?

"I've been battling this for two years at least. I feel like their (the city's) negligence caused this whole thing to happen," explained John Watts of Value Vet in Nashville.

The problem is a drainage ditch along the side of Watt's property along Gallatin Road. Every time it rains, he said the water isn't draining properly and causing the edge of his parking lot to slowly erode. Recently the problem got so bad his retaining wall collapsed.

"We would like to make improvements on this property and actually do some construction with the building. We're in a holding pattern, we can't get permits because of this issue, we can't expand because of this issue," he said.

In an effort to get the city to pay attention to the issue John had a sign made at a local print shop that reads "Mayor Dean, This is your mess!" with a black and white photo of Mayor Karl Dean in the center of the sign.

"I get lots of support from it, people come by and honk and are like ‘yay' they know the problem," John added.


The Mayor refuses to acknowledge the problem. He's got a promenade to erect.

However, there might be a problem for North Nashville neighborhoods if all of the federal flood funds are going to suit a stylish amphitheater. Sulphur Dell is an area historically prone to catastrophic floods. Even with the Army Corps of Engineers taking measures to mitigate flood damage in Nashville during the 2010 flood, the Sulphur Dell area flooded again. Has the Mayor figured any flood mitigation costs into a new ballpark? He failed in 2010 to consider the damage that could be caused by Richland Creek on the planned west police precinct and had to add expensive damage mitigation, which still looked flawed afterward. One would think that he learned a lesson and has committed money to flood mitigation for all capital projects that need it. But I have heard nothing to that effect.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Mayor Dean has taken care of flood mitigation at Sulphur Dell. All of that displaced Cumberland River water will have to go somewhere. Sulphur Dell is now essentially floodplain that kept many of us from flood damage in 2010. Flood waters at that time crested within a block of our house. If we have a future flood with a new ballpark and there are plans to push waters away from Sulphur Dell, whose homes will be inundated in Germantown, Salemtown, Buena Vista and Hope Gardens where they were not in 2010? Given that there is a daisy chain of flood events that results from displacing water in flood mitigation, has Karl Dean any secondary plans to protect our neighborhoods, businesses and homes from damage if a ballpark is built near us?

On this the 8th anniversary of Katrina flooding in New Orleans (which captured our attention at the time), I wonder whether the millions of dollars in federal flood aid in Nashville might be spent to help many more people beyond the patrons of an amphitheater.