Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What community input?

From a curious article announcing but not explaining "community input" on a proposed Nashville ballpark for the Sounds:

Nashville is seeking community input regarding alternative ballpark locations for the Nashville Sounds ..., providing a breath of fresh air to the proceedings ....

the city is taking a more deliberative approach to the new-ballpark issue. The former Sulphur Dell site has been mentioned prominently as the potential new-ballpark site, though there are plenty of issues (parking, state of the surrounding neighborhood) with that site as well, nostalgia aside ....

Last fall the Sounds started working with University of Tennessee College of Architecture graduate students and the Nashville Civic Design Center on alternative ballpark sites. The results of that work is now on display at the Center, and officials there are hoping the proposals will spur further discussions about potential ballpark sites.

I have seen no reports of open community events sponsored by city officials soliciting community feedback.

I have seen Friends of Sulphur Dell, a coordinated, on-message group of unqualified ballpark supporters, dedicated to shaping public opinion to a new ballpark in the Bicentennial Mall area.

The Nashville Civic Design Center's event last week was more of a promotion and fundraiser for itself instead of a townhall meeting or charrette format. The NCDC displayed strictly conceptual sketches of possible ballparks not based on community feedback or planning or character, but based on ballparks in other cities and the possible views of Downtown. Even the description of "new site designs," is somewhat misleading in that it could be interpreted as something official like a proposal, when the designs are actually just an exercise in one non-profit's imagination.

If you are interested in the purely abstract, academic models with very little connection to the North End community, then the designs are being displayed at NCDC through the end of April. They say they welcome public feedback there, but I'm not sure how they are documenting and quantifying that feedback or how it will be used to eventually shape more civic planning exercises outside the non-profit sector. However, do not confuse the NCDC request for input with the report above that "Nashville is seeking community input." Nashville has not done anything on that score, yet.

I've already sent my concerns and questions in to Gary Gaston, the NCDC Director, because I'm not interested in dreaming about a ballpark until the harder questions receive their hearing in open forum. I'm also concerned that the ballpark initiative will gain enough momentum to benefit certain candidates for office and local party wonks in this election cycle without actually helping our community at all.

UPDATE: A fascinating comment below that the Nashville Civic Design Center and Friends of Sulphur Dell actually collaborated more on last week's ballpark forum than either one let on.


  1. Dean has one thing in mind when it comes to buidling a new ballpark -- it's the photo op he'll gladly "accept" to throw out the first pitch of the first game played there. We'll see this picture everywhere when he runs for governor.

    I just hope his PR agency has an art director who is smart enough to crop out his over-sized, Lands End loafers when he's up on the pitcher mound.

    Otherwise, he might look goofy.

  2. Friends of Martha IngramThu Apr 14, 01:26:00 PM CDT

    Another thing worth mentioning, as someone who attended the NCDC meeting:

    The meeting was virtually a "Friends of Sulpher Dell" event. There were multiple piles of petitions and "Friends of Sulpher Dell" stickers (and virtually everyone was wearing one). In addition, the executive director very proudly announced that the evening's event was sponsored by "Friends of Sulpher Dell" and that they had paid for the nice food/cheese spread, as well as the wine and micro-brew.

    Someone asked why the NCDC and UTK did not study the Thermal Site, to which the UTK professor replied that the real planning should be left to the experts and a "professional" study will need to be undertaken. Further proof this was a sloppy PR move by the powers that want the Sulpher Dell site (or should I say, the powers that want the Thermal Site for something other than baseball), but had very little to do with actually advancing the planning debate.

  3. Well those are some intriguing disclosures, FoMI. The Director of NCDC sent me an email before the event with the following comment about food/beverage, which makes no mention of Friends of Sulphur Dell:

    As for attendance, [advertising $10.00 for the event for nonmembers on the website] is a suggested donation practice, we do not actively collect money and have never turned anyone away. We are serving food, wine and beer as well for our guests.

    My interpretation of Director Gaston's comment was that the food, wine & beer were connected to the $10.00 suggested donation.

    I had no idea that Friends of Sulphur Dell was so knee-deep in the Nashville Civic Design Center. That is a troubling prospect for those like me who would prefer that the NCDC play more the role of a neutral facilitator than a collaborative advocate.

  4. I'm afraid that the NCDC also showed no neutrality when it accepted a substantial payment to facilitate the meetings related to the future of the Fairgrounds. Even it's reports were biased to the Mayors agenda. Read the reports and it's obvious the public opinion was hidden in the fine print.

  5. Ronnie: the irony on the NCDC's Fairgrounds plan was that the movers & shakers on the Mayor's team treated the plan and the money paid to NCDC as a joke:

    If that is true, are there even more expensive jokes in our future at Sulphur Dell?

  6. Thanks for your comments Darden Copeland!

  7. If Darden Copeland is going to keep commenting in your blog it would be helpful if he identified himself. Then again, I guess he has a reputation for creating fake identities:

  8. Re: reputations for "for fake identities": well, if that isn't the anonymous pot calling the anonymous kettle "black."

    Friends of Sulphur Dell has carefully handled this issue without the messiness of democratic neighborhood meetings. Jason Powell called exactly one meeting of the affected neighborhoods a year ago, choosing since then to hock it to an obliging, even indulgent, news media (City Paper's Joey Garrison, the editorial staff at the Tennessean, etc). Jerry Maynard brings it up everywhere he appears asking for peoples' votes. Even Davidson Co Democrats who could care less about baseball are spinning it up. Now the Nashville Civic Design Center, whom I foolishly recommended last April to the group that became Friends of Sulphur Dell, seems to be taking sides. Boy, was I ever wrong about NCDC.

    It's all PR, all the time. And it's dishonest.

    I'll wager that there is a political machine behind Friends of Sulphur Dell with more than its share of trolls who have their own history of assuming "fake identities".