Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In order to incorporate Sulphur Dell history, the ballpark architects have demolished its commemoratives

If memory serves, what was pitched to people about the section of state greenway that bordered the spot designated for a new Sulphur Dell ballpark was that it would be incorporated into the new facility. What I distinctly recall from the scant community meetings sponsored by Mayor Karl Dean and Council Member Erica Gilmore was that the greenways would remain intact, but their use by the public would be limited on baseball game days.

If any ballpark architects from Gobbell Hays and Populous ever mentioned demolishing the state greenway along with a water feature that commemorated the sulphur spring and creek that marked both the history and prehistory of an area that was the cradle of the city of Nashville, I missed it. But I discovered today that the greenway and fountain are gone.

June 2007: an attractive homage to the sulphur spring that once fed
French Lick Creek, whose course was commemorated with an adjoining greenway

April 2014: the spot where the water feature once stood,
now reduced to rubble and landfill left by the new ballpark/mixed-use project

Make no mistake. Nashville has a permissive track record of enabling developers to wipe its history clean in order to embrace growth. And builders rush in to reduce the historic and the prehistoric records to virtual moonscapes before building something else. Like some coursing need to wash itself clean of its own history, good or ill, Nashville hands development over to developers to largely tear down and build anew at will.

So, maybe I should not be surprised to see today that the fountain and greenway have met the same fate as demolished state parking lots and city roadways. The profit motive overruns any preservation mandate. There is no onus on the architects to acknowledge the significance of the sulphur spring for which their concept is named. It certainly won't come from this Mayor or this district's council member both of whom have ingratiated themselves to the real estate industry. Having been a Nashvillian for 25 years, nothing Metro allows surprises me anymore.

But what sticks with me now is that nobody bothered to be transparent about the demolition beforehand: not the architects, not the sponsoring council member, not the Mayor. I don't remember a word uttered about it. Hence, I wonder if what we are going to get--once something is built on top of the demolished debris, on top of the dust heap--is privatized infill rarely open to the public and forgetful of what was there before baseball or hipster urbanism were ever imagined in Nashville. Is the small corridor where there was once a greenway and a water feature going to be flipped to a sterilized, generic pass-through for people on the way to somewhere else? That would be a cynical re-write of local history.


  1. That is disappointing but I haven't seen that feature clean and functioning in my past visits.

    1. I'll assume for the sake of argument that reasons for the fountain were not working when you were there have nothing to do with seasonal calendars or maintenance.

      Is a non-functioning fountain cause for its demolition? Or isn't repair preferable?

      I've seen the Bicentennial Mall fountains not functioning for longer periods of time than this much smaller one, but nobody ever talked about demolishing them. They were down a whole summer in repairs.

      But the problem here remains that nobody ever brought demolition up in the community meetings I went to. Demo plans should have been divulged with or without regard to whether the fountain was broken or not.

      By her Twitter exchanges with me, I gather that council member Erica Gilmore (who shepherded the ballpark plan through to approval) does not even know what the project manager had in mind when the fountain was demolished. How can that even happen?

  2. I expect we'll hear that the water feature was demolished by mistake and will be rebuilt in some form or fashion nearby (whether that is actually the truth is another story).

    I think this is really indefensible, so elected officials will push responsibility off on someone else and jump in to fix the mess and claim credit.

    I don't know about the greenway. What makes one greenway a small corridor (good) versus a generic pass-through (bad).

    Note: I agree a greenway needs to have some "green" around it.

    I remember the comments about the greenway being closed on game day. Why was that? Did it traverse what was planned for a parking lot? I can't think of any other reason except that you could see in the stadium from the greenway (thus reducing the need to buy a ticket), and I don't think that's much of a reason at all.

    1. At the community meeting at Farmers Market, architects said that the greenway would have to be closed to the public during games and ballpark events because it would fall within the stadium footprint. There was really no opportunity given to ask follow-ups on what exactly that means. Follow-up questions had to be written on cards and meeting organizers picked which questions they would answer. It was all controlled and designed to fast-track this project with the most minimal interaction with the community.

      According to the drawings I have seen, the greenway will be a small pedestrian strip between the parking garage (hence, no parking lots), mixed-used development and the ballpark. Even if one can see a game from the greenway, a lot more people will be able to see it from their homes in the mixed use. I don't see the greenway as providing a lot of comfortable space for game-watching.

      For the council member to behave now as if she is beholden to the project managers--when she could have slowed things down and gotten clear answers last fall--is simply irresponsible on her part.