Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Traffic & parking planning in Salemtown sinks from deficient to dumpster fire with latest ballpark predicament

First, Metro tells us that they blew up their $65,000,000 First Tennessee Park construction budget because they didn't account for the age of the buried utility lines. Yesterday another shoe dropped: the garage that was supposed to keep game day fans from filling up our vanishing parking spaces won't be baseball ready until the 2016 season. That's an entire traffic-clogged baseball season to you and me:
Two and a half months before opening day at the Nashville Sounds' new baseball stadium, Metro officials are searching for places where fans can park their cars.

That's because an $18 million parking garage to accompany the city-financed stadium won't be ready this season, presenting complications for the inaugural year of First Tennessee Park ....

The 1,000-space garage — paid for by Metro and built by the state of Tennessee on state-owned land — is part of an agreement between the two governmental entities and the Sounds. The plan is for state employees to eventually use the garage during the day and for stadium-goers to use the garage at night and on weekends.

But the state, which will own the four-story garage, only recently broke ground on the project and state officials estimate it won't be finished until Oct. 31.

How is the Mayor working to extinguish this dumpster fire? Well, to start, four hours before the bad news broke, his spin squad announced a media tour of the ballpark construction site to take reporters' minds off the negative impact of the parking snafu on the local neighborhoods. He also promises a "temporary parking plan" using shuttles and parking lots off-site. Even when the garage was part of the concept as planned back in 2013, the Mayor made vague references to shuttles and off-site parking lots with few specifics or details, so I do not have much faith in his latest parking plan. I think baseball fans will be scouring Germantown and Salemtown for parking, especially because there are no spaces to be had downtown.

I tried to warn CM Erica Gilmore about the need for a traffic and parking plan, but she wouldn't listen as she pounded ballpark construction through the council. She has already told me point-blank that she will not even consider reserved street parking for Salemtown residents. She does not have her ducks in a row on parking issues in our neighborhood. And she's a last-term lame duck herself this election year, so I'm not expecting any high flying at the council level this spring and summer as we fight for parking spaces near our own homes.

For his part, Nashville Sounds team owner Frank Ward uses the occasion to lecture on the differences between being realists and expecting perfection:
"Will it be perfect?" Sounds owner Frank Ward said of the parking plan. "No, but it will help alleviate the parking issues. And we're working hand-in-hand with the city in coming up with that and making sure that we get it out to all our fans in sufficient time.

"Part of the plan with the city is to minimize the inconvenience of residents in Salemtown and Germantown and to keep [the parking] all south of Jefferson Street."
Maybe I missed something. Who expects perfection? Please, Mr. Ward, don't confuse demanding good and careful planning before jumping into historically huge construction with "perfection." Don't confuse expecting the mayor to have contingency plans already publicized with "perfection." Don't confuse a real, transparent risk assessment of higher costs after ground is broken with "perfection."

Despite the fact that that his club is now living on the Metro dime, Mr. Ward's ultimate allegiance is not to us taxpayers but to the Sounds ownership group and to the luxury suite and other season ticket holders.

However, I am pleased to see that Mr. Ward can for once utter the name, "Salemtown" with reference to the impact of his new toy. Hopefully, the Nashville Sounds will start treating us with more respect as time goes on.

I will not put my money on it, though.

Mr. Ward and the Sounds stopped their nostalgic references to Sulphur Dell and Jefferson Street once the council rubber stamped the Mayor on the plan. The nods to local history are over.

Moreover, I'm told that when our association's event organizers approached the Sounds about co-sponsoring a recent event, the club sent some left-over bobbleheads and out-dated t-shirts. That is not much of a sponsorship. It is rather pathetic.

UPDATE: The spate of reporters tweeting pictures today of the Mayor's tour of the new ballpark says to me that it was effective in turning a bad story into positive news media PR. Rather than reaching out to the neighborhoods most directly affected by the delay in the parking garage until 2016, the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods is joining the feel-good chorus by posting photos of Hizzoner's tour of laughter and forgetting on Twitter:

"Creative visualization is my new plan to see that parking garage behind right field."

UPDATE: Give a sports reporter a hard hat, a yellow vest, and personal access to the Mayor and he is bound to go all giddy. The Mayor's Office and the Nashville Sounds have to pleased with this free advertising: "the new park appears to be the latest home run for the city." Is the Tennessean's Dave Ammenheuser bucking for a future promotional job with the team?

In a video connected to that editorial (because it is not good journalism), Frank Ward tells press, "Everything inside the ballpark will be ready for opening day." And conditions outside the ballpark? Fuhgeddaboudit!

UPDATE: At least some local journalists are giving us a fair shake after attending the Mayor's publicity tour of the stadium. Staff reporter E.J. Boyer at the Nashville Business Journal acknowledges the challenges facing this zooming construction project:
Another big question that has emerged this week is related to parking, a concern for the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of residents and visitors in recent years, crowding already narrow streets with cars. Dean's original proposal included a 1,000-spot garage to be funded by Metro but built by the state on state-owned land .... the garage won't be ready this season.

On Wednesday, Dean shifted responsibility for the garage's delay to the state, noting that on Metro's side, this is a fast-moving project. He added that his team has been working on a back-up plan for months, anticipating a delay, and that he hopes to reveal something in the next few weeks. Both Dean and Sounds owner Frank Ward said details are being worked out as to which party would pick up the tab for an alternative parking situation (which would most likely use shuttles to get fans to satellite parking locations) ....

The mayor's office will organize and host neighborhood meetings in the coming weeks to offer details on traffic patterns, noise and light pollution.
So maybe we will eventually get some answers to a laundry list of quality-of-life questions that should have been answered in the planning stages before approval was ever given to start construction.

UPDATE: So, the opening of the parking garage was never an expectation for opening day, huh? Then why are Metro officials acting like the news came out of left field?
"It really put us in a lurch to figure out where we're going to park people," Metro Sports Authority Executive Director Toby Compton said. "A. We wanted to figure out as much of a parking blend as possible. And the mayor was really insistent that there be a free component to the parking. That was big.

"To layer that, what we've also done is encourage people to think about mass transit options ...," he said. "Once they see this plan, they are not going to go north of Jefferson."
Metro powers-that-be have "cobbled" together a transit plan that includes free parking at Farmers' Market, state lots on James Robertson Parkway, and the "center piece," $5 parking at the Courthouse 7 or 8 blocks away from the new ballpark.

Will baseball fans buy the idea that no parking exists
above the map's top edge?
My first reaction is: why not free parking at the Courthouse? If I'm a commuting baseball fan and I have choice between parking in Germantown 2 or 3 blocks away for free or parking at the Courthouse farther away for fee, I would take the Germantown option. The fringe benefit of my choice is that I also get some exercise; health benefits accrue to the free Germantown option. Until the parking garage behind right field is built, there should be free parking for every fan in all of these lots south of Jefferson. Otherwise, Germantown and probably Salemtown are going to lose on-street parking. Universally free parking is the least the Mayor can do after blundering through the planning stages with no transit options ready-to-roll.

UPDATE: the primary reason that the ballpark legislation was shamelessly rammed through the process with little council debate and practically no citizen influence over planning is realized Opening Day, April 17. Hizzoner reserved the right to throw out the symbolic first pitch.

Mayor Karl Dean throws out the first pitch
(as celebrated by CM Jacobia Powell on her Twitter feed)

His work here is done.

UPDATE: It's Friday morning, April 24, 2015. I reserved seats in the ballpark weeks ago for my family to attend tonight's game. Paid for them and everything. I got an email mere hours before game time that our seats have been moved farther away from the action. Here is the relevant part of the email:

Dear fan,

This is not the kind of email we like to send. We’ve just been told that we have to move you to a new spot at your upcoming event, and we’ve been searching for new seats you’ll like just as much.

Nashville Sounds Vs. Oklahoma City Dodgers
First Tennessee Park
Friday, April 24, 2015 at 7:05PM

We’ve done everything we can to get you comparable seats!

If they keep treating me like this, I may have to re-evaluate my long-time status as a Sounds fan.

UPDATE: It's Monday morning, July 13, 2015. Have to say that I am hearing more and more complaints in the local community as the summer goes along that Sounds fans seem to have discovered all of the free streetside parking in Germantown and Salemtown. I cannot say I feel too much sympathy now, because the dire and bloated parking situation was predictable and preventable.

In the meantime, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight recently produced a brilliant piece on public taxes (in the form of municipal bonds, like those going to First Tennessee Park). The whole segment is wonderful and hilarious (according to one long-time stadium observer called it "more thoroughly fact-checked" than most news media coverage), but pay particular attention to the impact of one stadium on a neighborhood business, which locals who are "the regulars" abandon during games.

Hopefully, you also noticed that one big league owner refused to be transparent about his team's finances in exchange for public revenues "because that's just how it is" in league history. You may also recall that Metro's Finance Director made the exact same argument for committing municipal bonds to build First Tennessee Park, even though there are glaring instances in which that was not the way it was at all, and even though Nashville claims to want to be unlike any other city in the country. You cannot really be "It City" if you simply conform "because that's just how it is."


  1. There was never an expectation, and definitely never a promise, that the garage would be completed in time for the stadium opening. I'm not sure why this is even a story. No reports have indicated that the garage would be completed this year; the priority, whether one likes it or not, was to have the stadium ready for Spring season. A garage would certainly be helpful for traffic and parking issues, but it's a non-story that the garage won't be ready this year.

    1. The chance of no garage the first season was never clearly communicated in any of the meetings I attended during the planning or approval stages of this project. The garage was sold as part of the ballpark package and as a way to take pressure off of the neighborhoods. You can bet that even if there had been an inkling that the garage would be later than the ballpark, neighbors at these meetings would have demanded a temporary T&P plan for the first year.

      Also, your comment is disingenuous, given the Tennessean reporting that the state said that garage construction has been a longer than anticipated process. Apparently, reporter Joey Garrison, who has followed the ballpark question for years at two different papers considers the delay news. When the Mayor was asked about it this week, he did not reply, "We never promised the completion of the garage by the first season." He passed the buck to state officials for the delayed ground breaking.

      You seem to be parsing meanings in legalistic fashion to control the perceived damage. If not, can you link to info that clearly shows garage completion slated for the 2nd season? I've followed this process closely and in my opinion, there was either an attempt to deceive from the beginning or there was an error in construction planning with no back-up plan in place (which is why both Metro & the Sounds are scrambling to get one in place). The main questions preying on my mind now are: were the expected garage parking fees charged to fans the first year put in some income column in the budget projections, and what kind of blow is the 1-season absence of home game parking fees to the revenue side?