Saturday, November 30, 2013

This actually happened at this morning's ballpark community meeting

At times, actual conversations can be stranger than anything else I might make up:

Council member: Let me give you my cell phone number so that you can call me in the future before you write stuff about me. That's what reporters do. Call me first.

Me: Okay, but I'm not a reporter. I'm just a guy in the community writing opinion about ballpark impact.

Council member: You're a bitch!

Me: Now I'm certain I don't want your cell phone number.

Someone lost their composure, and I am sure it was not the guy who matters least in the ballpark debate.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Club owner and real estate developer acknowledges that he set the timeline for Metro to follow on the ballpark

Staying out of politics? Sounds fishy.
It is an old story. Developers play their hands close to the vest in order to leverage the best deal they can from the other parties involved. A developer sets a deadline and we have to take him at his word unless we want to try and expose a bluff; doing so itself a risk.

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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

For those of you looking to spend some quality Thanksgiving holiday time with your family at the meeting on a foregone conclusion

The official Sulphur Dell meeting announcement that went out this week to four neighborhoods, I suppose, is below. Curious that the Salemtown co-host is the association's Vice President rather than President, given that the other association hosts of the meeting are Presidents.

Sulphur Dell Informational Meeting

Discussion of Proposed

Ballpark Project At Sulphur Dell

Saturday, November 30, 2013

9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee

Community Meeting Room

1015 Herman Street

This meeting will focus on the proposed Ballpark Project at Sulphur Dell – a significant public-private partnership that will allow Metro Government to build a new minor league ballpark at Sulphur Dell in the Jefferson Street / Germantown area.  Representatives will give background for the project and explain the proposal.  

Co-Hosted  By

District 19 Councilmember Erica S. Gilmore

At-Large Councilmember Charlie Tygard

Salemtown NA Vice President Mark Bodamer

Hope Gardens NA President Bonnie Bashor

Historic Buena Vista NA President Mark Wright

Germantown NA President Robbie Vaughn

When I read "informational meeting" I still do not think of community meeting. Sounds like representatives are going to do more presenting than listening to the community. Given the unfortunate timing of the meeting, it may not matter since many in the community are naturally focused on the holidays.

UPDATE: Steven Hale reports on the last-minute, thrown-together, ramshackle fashion that CM Erica Gilmore put this meeting together. As far as I am concerned this process has been disgraceful. I won't soon forget the indignity to the community planning process of the scheduling of this meeting. It is her albatross that our own council member put this together because another member--and a conservative one at that--requested it at the last council meeting. She seemed anything but proactive:

Tygard says Councilwoman Erica Gilmore — who represents the area north of downtown where the stadium will be built — offered to put together a public meeting. Tygard took her up on the offer, although the timing of the meeting may only accentuate concerns about pushing the project through during the holiday season. It will be held at 9 a.m. Nov. 30 — the Saturday after Thanksgiving — at Goodwill Industries on Herman Street.

Tygard's absence at two ballpark briefings earlier this month has drawn criticism from some of his council colleagues. But he says he will be at the public meeting. As of this writing, Gilmore says she's still working to see which Metro officials will be able to join them.

So, if Charlie Tygard had not raised an objection and asked in his comments for public meetings, I doubt Erica Gilmore would have lifted a finger to do so. I believe that she would have let this legislation sail through unscathed, with the council public hearing being the only opportunity for the community to give feedback. As it is, I doubt it will get much community blow back on Saturday and who knows whether Metro officials will even show up. The scheduling assures that. What a farce.

Don't even think about commenting on a new ballpark, peons. You are fresh out of time.

Your ignorance is your bliss. What you don't have time to know about this ballpark deal cannot hurt you (at least until 2014 when it is too late to change anything):

Once they break it, we will have bought it, ready or not.

UPDATE: Alright, there are several significant things I am learning that I believe I should share. Not like any of us has time do anything about them:

  • The agreement with the state contains a provision that Metro will pay the parking costs of state workers displaced by a ballpark at LPField, along with the costs of a shuttle service to carry them from and back to their cars.
  • The Mayor has crafted a proposal to expand this year's already approved capital budget by $10,000,000 more to accommodate a new ballpark at Sulphur Dell. He will present that at the next council meeting.
  • The Sounds are currently losing $1,000,000 per year, which may explain why the Mayor is not contactually binding them to sharing the costs of development, but instead relying on their good nature to volunteer the money.

If those are the some of the new things we are learning in less than one month, how many more are we going to learn after council approves this plan on December 10 at final reading?

About yesterday's state "public hearing" on the new ballpark

I caught the important parts of yesterday's State Building Commission public hearing on Mayor Karl Dean's ballpark proposal even though I did not get there when the meeting started. I was late for several valid reasons. First, of all I do not get paid for lobbying for a new minor league ballpark or for rezoning to develop multi-use dwellings or for accruing campaign finance bling from influential sources or for reporting those who do. So, unlike most of the people in the committee room yesterday, I had to take time off my job to drive downtown, find a parking space, hike several blocks to Legislative Plaza and wander from place-to-place with a couple other average Joes looking for an outside entrance to where Tennessee keeps its committee rooms (found them in a bunker under the Plaza) before I finally settled into my standing-room-only spot at the back of the room next to bureaucrats and professional politicos about 20 minutes into the meeting.

The crowd was not standing-room-only because a flood of community-based types showed up for the hearing. Not hardly. It was standing-room-only because there were only about 50 chairs in the gallery and most of those were taken up by government and business-interest suits or journalists or lobbyists. I did not see any of the neighbors I saw at the Mayor's launch party at the Farmers Market. And, strangely, I did not see any of the red-shirted glee club of supporters of a new Sulphur Dell. That is strange to me because CM Jerry Maynard has pounded the proposition that the ballpark is wildly popular out here in the streets, and he has had the red shirt squad to show for it before. The legs on the initiative may actually have little to do with what those of us outside-looking-in actually opine about a new ballpark anyway.

But even if ordinary citizens were available to attend a meeting in the middle of a workday morning, there was no room for them either in space or agenda. The hearing ran like clockwork with representatives of business special interests (Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership, Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau) and government officials (CM Maynard, State Senator Thelma Harper and someone from the Sports Authority) all expressing predictable support for the ballpark. I asked one journalist if anyone actually representing a neighborhood spoke before JUMP did (which was when I arrived), and he said no. So, no one but those with a vested financial interest having little to do with quality of life spoke on the ballpark question.

There was no discernible direction from the chair for opponents to speak. One big shot after the other approached the podium and was recognized by the chair before he said, "Anyone else want to speak?" I was not sure whether his offer was to any of the other nabobs or it was a stooped invitation to the few plebs present, so I did not break for the microphone myself. Very quickly the chair asked for a vote, got a unanimous one and the ballpark deal was gavelled "approved". It all seemed scripted, especially to a guy like me who is more used to the rancor and pitchforks on unsettled development questions that we tend to see in Metro Council chambers. In the end it probably did not matter that I missed a chance to speak. I'm sure I would have gotten a "who-the-hell-are-you?" look from the commissioners coming on the heels of speakers in slick suits and royal ascot hats.

In the end, I'm sure it was not unintentional to actually make the public feel out-of-place at a state public hearing. Barring some sort of groundswell of resistance to the Mayor's plan, it is fast tracked to win like a well-sired 3-year-old flanked by experienced stable hands. Any concerned community critics who are not organized are going to get trampled underfoot now that bill sponsors can claim red-state support.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A couple of quick Friday ballpark thoughts

During his speechifying on a new Sulphur Dell ballpark a few days ago, CM at-Large Jerry Maynard called the project the first major economic investment on Jefferson Street. For your consideration:
  • It seems to me that the National Museum of African American Music that had been slated for the state-owned property at the corner of Jeff St. and Rosa Parks Boulevard (currently a parking lot) could have been the first major economic investment, but its leaders bailed on the site when Karl Dean allowed the project to languish and then declared that he wanted to move it downtown (after his Med Mart plan crashed and burned). How did CM Maynard respond? By supporting the Mayor and defending NMAAM's abandonment of Jeff St.
  • Given the contaminated soil down the street at the 5th and Jeff intersection next to the proposed ballpark properties, I'm left wondering what lies in the soil at Jeff St. and Rosa Parks. Given that this intersection has been a magnet for gas stations, I'm tempted to search for what was on that corner before the state acquired it. It is pure speculation on my part now, but what are the chances that the soil there could be contaminated to the point where clean up would be too expensive to allow museum construction?

UPDATE: I'm not the only one peeved by the apparent wish of ballpark supporters that working people with families to support in the local community not be allowed to weigh in on a new Sulphur Dell.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

State announces meeting to offer the public a chance to comment on land deal for Sulphur Dell ballpark

This hit my email box earlier this afternoon:

                     State Seal
               State of Tennessee
                      Secretary of State Tre Hargett
                          State Comptroller Justin P. Wilson
                       State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr.
             For Immediate Release: Nov. 21, 2013
Media Advisory: State Building Commission to Offer Opportunity for Public Comment
on New Sounds Stadium Deal November 25

WHAT: The State Building Commission’s executive subcommittee is scheduled to discuss a land transaction related to the planned construction of a new stadium at Sulphur Dell for the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team. The committee intends for there to be an opportunity for members of the public to provide comment during that meeting prior to consideration of action on the proposed sale agreement.

WHEN: Monday, November 25 at 10:30 a.m.

WHERE: Hearing Room 30 of the Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville

A link to the full meeting agenda can be found at:  (See pages 11 and 12 for the relevant agenda item)

Media contact: Blake Fontenay, Communications Director, (615) 253-2668 or

The politician displayed ballpark cynicism

Since the project I started yesterday (to crowdsource a list of community meetings that Rev. Jerry Maynard claims ballpark supporters held many times over the last few years) seems to be failing miserably, I'm starting to assume that readers are just as unaware of any of these forums as I am. Maybe no neighborhood-oriented meetings were held (beyond the one I attended in 2010 that was designed to drum up support).

As regrettable as CM Maynard's claims about community meetings are, I want to skip today to something else he told council, which came across as cynical to me with a second look at the tape:

We're not doing anything we haven't done in the past .... I got to tell you, I'm troubled because, this is the fir- as council lady Gilmore said, this is the first time we've had major economic investment in North Nashville, and to pull this one when we haven't pulled anything else after all these years. I just think we need to move forward on this.

I never lose faith in CM Maynard's ability to stretch the truth beyond anything I might recognize, but once again, it is not factual that the council has not pulled any other bills on first reading after all these years. I've blogged about several times the council has pulled bills off the consent agenda on first reading. I can remember other times bills have been pulled on first reading for discussion. It is rare, but it happens. I've always assumed it remains in the by-laws because the members see its utility even in its rarity.

So, how many times does CM Maynard have to make stuff up before someone in council or in the news media calls his bluff?

But I digress from my original point: the cynicism of CM Maynard's argument in light of the fact that community meetings really have not happened much if at all. Why do I consider his comments cynical? Because I hear within them an implicit deal of "I won't pull your big capital spending bills if you don't pull my expensive pet projects." Instead of at least going through the motions of holding community meetings and bringing concerns to the council (even if disingenuously brought), CM Maynard seems to be conceding that Metro Council is not so much Nashville's representative body as they are what they have been called by others before: "40 jealous whores" fighting over turf, over influence. "You don't pull/I don't pull" comes across to me an acknowledgement that this council is more focused on whatever plums might fall from the master's table, leaving the crumbs for their constituents (who are otherwise out of sight, out of mind in these deliberations)

Playing the role of CM Maynard's enabler was Ronnie Steine, who did not particularly care for the way the council was tending to "move forward' on the ballpark bill. So, he counseled "backing up" and lectured the council about being on the same team with a united interest that he did not define. I'll have to assume that he meant the same old "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" interest they share. After he got a round of the council's applause, CM Steine launched into bill opponents for doing something he claims he always opposes, pulling bills on first reading. While he backed off his erroneous charge that opponents were breaking rules, he insinuated that they were breaking council tradition. But remember, they're on the same team:

You can call me a hypocrite on this one. I opposed pulling any bill on first reading .... I would argue whether you're for or against it that you honor this council and how we operate.

Whether or not I can call him a hypocrite may be up for debate, but calling him inaccurate is not. During one of those past moments where a fellow did indeed pull a bill off of the consent agenda during first reading, CM Steine had such a conniption that he threatened to pull every other bill off that same agenda for debate. Threatening to pull every bill on first reading to prove a point is still a contradiction of one's commitment never to pull any bill on first reading. Wouldn't the at-Large CM be better served, that is if he honestly is opposed to pulling bills off the consent agenda, by making a motion or introducing a resolution to change the by-laws and charter to prohibit pulling those bills? Even having a "consent agenda" implies that consent is freely given. If not, it's not a consent agenda, and fabricated tradition be damned.

The cynicism was on full display Monday night in the council discussion on a new ballpark for the Nashville Sounds. I guess I was expecting it, but I keep hoping for something more noble, even after all of these years.

RIP, John Egerton

Nashville resident and author of southern culture, John Egerton has died according to local news reports. Mr. Egerton's civil rights writing touched on the history of Salemtown with his narrative to the film, A Child Shall Lead Them. In 2009, I started blogging on the history of desegregation at Salemtown's Fehr School with an interest in getting Metro to preserve and protect that historic building as a living civil rights museum. Nearly all of my information on Fehr came from John Egerton. I can say without a doubt that Mr. Egerton made preservation of the Fehr School building possible. Please join me in grateful remembrance of John Egerton.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Erica Gilmore schedules community meeting on ballpark, but it looks right out of the developers' playbook for discouraging public turnout

Last night I sent an email to all council members requesting a longer time for approval on Sulphur Dell to allow for more community meetings. CM at-Large Charlie Tygard replied to my email this morning by acknowledging my concerns and asking CM Gilmore to schedule a community meeting "convenient" to her and "the neighborhoods" before the council committees consider her Sulphur Dell bill on December 2 and 3. She replied this afternoon by announcing that she is scheduling a community meeting on the ballpark plan for the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, November 30, at 9 in the morning at the Goodwill Industries on Herman Street in Hope Gardens.

There should be no whining out there just because you have been given about a week to change last-minute any family Thanksgiving plans you might have had in order to study up on a bill that was introduced in council a couple weeks ago (some council members may not even grasp it yet). You should come Saturday morning, holidays or not, prepared to ask your questions and then just go away so that the council can move this bill through committee when the Mayor tells them to pass it, as is their "tradition." Jump through the hoop and then move on. What do you expect? A participatory democracy? C'mon.

Never mind that it is a developer's dream to have a community meeting on a controversial bill involving a huge and historic Metro expenditure while everyone else affected is likely on vacation.

UPDATE: no sooner did I post this than CM at-Large Tygard replied to CM Gilmore's scheduling with word that he would not be able to attend Saturday morning because of his family's Thanksgiving plans.

Let's make a list of the ballpark meetings held

Some people have mentioned about process, and I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows this. That we began this process several years ago. Several studies have been done. Several town hall meetings have been completed. Neighborhood meetings all around the baseball stadium area along with meetings with organizations, nonprofit organizations as well as property owners, business owners all along the surrounding area where Sulphur Dell currently is. There is nothing but positivity from all of the neighborhood associations. In fact all of the neighborhood associations with the exception of one has endorsed the Sulphur Dell project. The one neighborhood that did not endorse it, they did not say they were against it. They just did not vote to endorse. So, we have the endorsement of the neighborhoods .... because we met with them, we discussed it.

--Jerry Maynard's comments yesterday to Metro Council
on community support for a new ballpark

I keep up with the ins and outs of my neighborhood association. Unless they held an unannounced community meeting with Jerry Maynard and his team of supporters of the Sulphur Dell development project, I can say with certainty that he never met with us, never discussed it with Salemtown Neighbors. For Rev. Maynard to insinuate that he has met with us is pure fabrication based on my experience.

I'm curious at this point. Can anyone out there confirm that they attended open meetings on the plan in the neighborhoods where questions and comments were addressed after which the membership approved of the ballpark plan? By the way, comments with proper names carry more weight than anonymous comments do.

(The point bears repeating that the specific Sulphur Dell plan was not publicly announced until the end of last month at the Farmers' Market. At that meeting there were numerous critical and concerned questions asked from those attending, and I recognized several residents from area neighborhoods besides Salemtown. At least a couple of Germantown residents vocally expressed concern about fireworks.)

Please help me generate a list of community meetings held on this plan.

Metro has not planned to test for and properly dispose of contaminated soil found on ballpark site

Look what we dug up!
Earlier this year, Metro was caught by the news media quietly dumping toxin-laced water treatment building debris and contaminated soil into a new landfill near Salemtown and Germantown. They were also busted for downplaying the levels of toxicity in the soil. At the time, the Mayor's Office minimized the level of contamination and possible exposure of neighbors and watershed by saying something to the effect that he had been told by his underlings that everything was fine. Nothing to see here.

And so Metro Water Services continued to dump contaminates in a hole near the Cumberland River and around the corner from our home; and everybody moved on.

Except that now we are hearing about more soil in the area found to be contaminated by barium and lead (removed by the state). The location of the findings: adjacent to the proposed Sulphur Dell ballpark site. In the name of public safety and environmental stewardship the common sense thing to do before construction starts is to test the ballpark site for heavy metals and other toxins, right?

"Wrong!" says the Mayor. Someone forgot to tell Hizzoner that it's not easy being green:

In spite of the problems, Mayor Karl Dean does not plan for environmental studies on the land under the ballpark.

"Well, we've already been in communication with the state about the environmental issues. But the environmental issues are what you would find almost anywhere downtown," Dean said.

Dean was asked if the city budget for the project includes money for soil remediation, should the city find it has to remove contaminated soil from underneath the Sulphur Dell stadium.

"Right now, we think we're in fine shape," Dean said.

Hidden costs are already a concern to some members of Metro Council.

Mayor Dean's pass-the-buck refrain sounds familiar for those of us following the Metro Water landfill. Then Metro Water argued that high levels of toxins could be found in bricks bought from Home Depot. No big deal. Likewise, contaminated soil can be found anywhere downtown. Feel safe now, downtown residents? Metro Water had not budgeted to truck their toxic soil to approved landfills. It was cheaper to bury it in the basement of a demolished building on their property. Likewise, the Mayor has not budgeted money for testing and remediation of soil on an historically industrial site next to brownfields found to be contaminated and possessing an unstable landfill. This is like a broken record skipping back to the same refrains when health and safety is at stake: money trumps environmental protection and political accountability.

I certainly hope that concerned members of the Metro Council step up and start to put stipulations on Erica Gilmore's Sulphur Dell bill that make the Mayor more accountable for the risks of this project.

For my part, I wrote another letter to CM Gilmore to do just that with her bill:

CM Gilmore:

On their 6:00 report tonight, Channel 4 reported that the state has found soil on properties adjacent to the proposed ballpark site at Sulphur Dell that contains toxins and heavy metals. They also reported that Metro does not plan to test the ballpark site soil for contaminants in order to properly dispose of them.

Given the recent fiasco at Metro Water Service's new landfill near Salemtown in which they were reportedly dumping soil known in the past to be toxic without testing it again, I am concerned that this sort of dumping could be repeated with possibly tainted soil from ballpark construction. I am particularly concerned that the soil could be added to MWS's recent dump between the Cumberland and Salemtown without any of us ever being warned by Metro officials.

Please amend any ballpark legislation to include requirements and funding for properly testing soil for contaminants and for disposing of any contaminated soil in approved landfills. Public safety and protection of our environment are worth the costs of proper disposal.


Mike Byrd

Given her silence on Metro Water's toxic dump, I would not be surprised if she ignored me on this one, too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving and Christmas are odd times to have community meetings, too

I realize that 2:00 is a bit of an odd time to have a community meeting.
--Doug Sloan, Deputy Director, Metro Planning Commission

How about planning a bona fide
community meeting?
Three weeks ago today, Mr. Sloan spoke those words to a couple of hundred people gathered in what turned out to be more of a press conference on a new Sulphur Dell ballpark than a community meeting. If his comments were not obvious acknowledgement of criticism at the impossible scheduling for a community of ordinary people with working obligations, the response by Planning's information officer, Craig Owensby was:

We hope as many interested citizens as possible can attend the meeting, but we recognize that it is difficult to find a time that works for everyone’s schedule .... We also hope to offer more community meetings as this process continues to give additional opportunities for community questions and comments.

Yes, it was odd to hold a "community meeting" in the middle of a weekday afternoon. More odd to me is the fact that three weeks have passed, and Metro Planning has not delivered on the promise to have more community meetings. You may remember that Mayor Karl Dean wants the Planning Commission and Metro Council to approve this proposal before 2013 gives way to 2014. That is exactly six weeks from today.

At this point, the only way that community meetings can happen are either hastily announced for the next week (which will translate to poor attendance) or scheduled during and between the battle-fatigued, mind-numbing, attention-deficit holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas (which will translate to poor attendance). One of the tricks in the "developers' playbook" is to hold public hearings of controversial projects as close to holidays as possible to minimize and mitigate any hard looks at those projects. Let's hope the lack of community meetings in the preceding three weeks does not constitute such a trick on the part of Metro planners.

At this point, they would do us all better to extend the Mayor's timeline into 2014 and hold community meetings after New Year's Day. However, who knows what kind of arm-twisting is being conducted by the Mayor's Office to minimize community input?

On a related note, I sent CM Erica Gilmore the following letter. I'll update if she responds.

CM Gilmore:

Three weeks have now passed since a media event to promote a new Sulphur Dell ballpark occurred at the Farmers' Market, and I am disappointed that no community meetings on the question have been held for the neighborhoods immediately affected by the proposed development. My disappointment is compounded by the fact that several important questions were asked by community leaders at the end of the October media event, but they have yet to be addressed by ballpark supporters such as yourself.

Some of us in your district who would have to bear immediate negative (as well as the positive) consequences of a new ballpark should have our concerns addressed in forums open to the public. And those meetings--unlike the one at Farmers' Market--should be held at times and on days when working people are free to attend. Given that Mayor Karl Dean intends the council to rush to approve of a new ballpark in the next six weeks, I am concerned that, if scheduled, the next meetings are going to fall among Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays, when many people with family and work obligations do not have time to attend them. Rather than schedule more inopportune meetings and ridiculous times, Metro leaders should extend the timeline for consideration of the ballpark into 2014, after the holidays when turn-out to community meetings can be maximized.

In the meantime, please address these questions that are preying on my mind:

1. This entire development is being built on historic flood plain. Most of it will be built to withstand future floods, which means that the displaced water will be pushed further up into the surrounding neighborhoods in such catastrophes. In 2010 the Cumberland River crested within a block of my home. How can I be sure that future flood water displaced from a Sulphur Dell development won't end up in my home?

2. You once told me that you are opposed to reserved residential parking on streets. A new Sulphur Dell ballpark will attract thousands on game nights and not all of those people will want to park in a parking garage. With huge new apartment dwellings and popular restaurants, Germantown parking is approaching a choke point. Are you willing to reconsider your opposition to reserved street parking in adjacent neighborhoods if a ballpark is built? If not, what legislation can you offer to protect our parking needs? Please explain how your reconcile you opposition to on-street reserved parking in your district when it exists in other parts.

3. Many of us here spent a long time working on the North Nashville Community Plan and we would hate to see it sacrificed due to the aspirations of developers and club owners. What assurances can you give us that a new Sulphur Dell will protect the quality-of-life elements that we put into the community plan? How will the ballpark compliment rather than undermine our plan?

4. What safeguards will you support to keep taxpayers from having to bear the load of the costs of a new ballpark if either the Sounds or developers refuse to pay their share of the $150 million?

5. It is my understanding that Salemtown Neighbors--which has not officially taken a stance one way or the other on a new ballpark--formally requested a community meeting from you. Are you working on scheduling a meeting with the association? If not, why not?

I honestly hope that you will make every effort to insure that all of your constituents are represented in the public dialogue on this huge capital project. Bringing probing questions to the table should not disqualify any of us from participating in this decision.

Mike Byrd

UPDATE:  On Tuesday evening a new wrinkle emerges as Channel 4 News is reporting that properties adjacent to the site on which the new ballpark would sit have tested positive for soil contamination in the past. A reporter was told by the Mayor that Metro has no plans to test the soil on which the ballpark would sit for toxins or heavy metals. Maybe it would break his budget to test in the name of public safety, but nonetheless, this is an interesting position for a county executive who has claimed to be a "green Mayor" in the past.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I see a bad MOON arising

When former Democratic Party campaign strategist Courtney Wheeler took over the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods earlier this year, I predicted that MOON--which was originally created as a community-oriented advocate connecting people with Metro bureaucrats and municipal services to solve community problems--would become a campaign/marketing mechanism to sell the Mayor's brand to consumers (a.k.a., his constituents). While we have yet to see whether her work will assist future Dean campaigns for higher office, in the wake of what MOON has done so far, I have to say now that sometimes I really hate being right.

Ms. Wheeler cranked up MOON's social media soon after taking the wheel. Her office joined Twitter and created a PR engine sending out Mayor's Office releases to members of NextDoor (a private social networking site marketed to neighborhoods). While not a member of latter, I have been following @moon_nashville since its beginning. Its primary bent has little to do with troubleshooting and problem-solving at a community level. It has not really been focused on connecting people with Metro services.

The MOON Twitter stream devotes at least as much space if not more to the Mayor's appearances around town and his pet projects as it does to neighborhoods. Here is a sampling of tweets having nothing to do with neighborhoods:


MOON social media promote Hizzoner's appearances with celebrities like Jack White, Jimmy Fallon, Taylor Swift and Garrison Keillor. They hawk a new riverfront amphitheater and The Amp. They preach us up to lose weight, pick up litter, and then lose more weight.

In the meantime, the nods to neighborhoods are marginal at best. They are just as likely to virtually wink at the Chamber of Commerce. The few and infrequent statements about neighborhoods tend to be vacuous ones about how Mayor's Office officials had a "great time" meeting with neighbors of wherever they appeared next.

The Office of Neighborhoods' social media strategy seems oriented to neighborhoods in name only. Kind of what you would expect when a campaign strategist steers the ship.

(While I did not say much about Hizzoner's use of NextDoor in particular, if you are interested, you can find more on it over here after the jump).

Monday, November 11, 2013

A few thoughts on Sulphur Dell since the Mayor's financing plan is introduced

You cannot look to ballpark supporters for sober cost-benefit analysis on the question of financing a new Sulphur Dell and subsidizing the Nashville Sounds in the process. I have a few observations about the events of the past few days in the spirit of being more rational about that process:

  • The Friday late afternoon news dump of this story last week was curious. A couple of hours before today's ballpark meeting was announced GOP State House Speaker Beth Harwell announced to the news media that she would not support dedicating $35 million in state funding for Karl Dean's new bus rapid transit east-west Nashville connector, "The Amp". That can always change, but for the time being it is a blow to the Dean infrastructure priority list. It is a blow to his brick-and-mortarmentum. The Sulphur Dell announcement could have been planned all along or it could have been announced to soften the PR blow on and divert news media attention from a limping Amp plan.
  • It is obvious that Karl Dean's modus operandi is to move ahead with these voluptuous capital budget plans with minimal popular input. He pursued the new convention center even though local opinion polls indicated that Nashvillians did not support it. He threatened to demolish a popular working-class entertainment venue, the State Fairgrounds, and sell off most of the land to private developers until there was impressive public backlash threatening to rip Metro Council limb-from-limb. Hizzoner could have eliminated most of the strong, organized popular opposition to the AMP by moving bus rapid transit north to Charlotte, but he dug in his heels and all but dared state Republicans to kill funding. They are able to embrace popular opposition, and the Amp is on the verge of unraveling. Likewise, he is ramming the ballpark plan through the Sports Authority and Metro Council with no regard to public questions or feedback. We will see if he can push this before any organized opposition gains the footing necessary to slow or stop the ballpark.
  • In the context of today's meeting announcing the financing plan, the October 24 "community meeting" continues to appear to have nothing to do with the community. None of the questions asked by the community are being considered. Everything is running to script and any of the concerns that many of us have about traffic, parking, flooding, fireworks, etc. are generally being ignored, even by the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. Buoyed by Metro's offer to build them a garage, the state is fully on board now. If Metro will not listen to community concerns, what chance do we have the state?
  • Our council member, Erica Gilmore, is ignoring the questions from the October community meeting. She does not seem to care to represent all of us. During tonight's council proceedings, she was described by one reporter as "celebratory" about the ballpark plan. Not a concern in the world about community impact. She seems to have checked out on some of us.
  • Before people start waxing on about how historic and "uniquely Nashville" the Sulphur Dell agreement is, they need to keep this in mind: the Metro Finance Director admits that the plan for Metro subsidizing the Sounds' new digs is based on the practices of other cities. Metro taxpayers are going to cough up $65 million to help pro baseball owners get wealthier because other cities do exactly the same thing. Ironically, being like other cities violates Metro Planning's first guiding principle: Be Nashville.
  • Seven years ago I expressed qualified support for the previous administration's plan to increase Metro operating budget spending $250,000 per year in maintenance costs for a new ballpark at the old downtown thermal plant site. It seemed like a fair trade-off, given that Greer Stadium required $5 million to bring it up to ADA compliance (completed in 2009 after the old deal fell through). I was more open previously to tax-increment financing (also a part of Dean's deal). I have had a change of heart about TIF, which I find to be overused and abused by opportunistic politicians nowadays. The Mayor's current proposal to carve out $345,000 from the annual operating budgets may not seem much more than the older plan, but we live in different times: cash flow to Metro services seems more strapped as the years go by. And a ballpark at the thermal site generated fewer questions about the potential negative impact on residential neighborhoods than the Sulphur Dell site does. Any support I express for a new Sulphur Dell has even more qualifications than my previous support.
  • The Mayor admits that the Nashville Sounds baseball club will not be contractually obligated to pay the $50 million that he plans on them paying for development. So, why would they need to hire a big-money lobbyist when they are not even required to pay for the development?

After going through the financials, I am still not ready to support a new Sulphur Dell without some assurances that Salemtown's quality of life will be protected. I am also not satisfied with how the concerns of the community, democratically expressed, are being overlooked and ignored by those we elect to represent us.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

And this guy claims to be Mayor of all Nashville?

I do not think that the Mayor's Office realizes just how polarizing their justification for not planning rapid transit for North Nashville is. I do not believe that this administration grasps how their cavalier response expresses the idea that Nashville is not one city, but a fractured arena of interests competing for Hizzoner's good graces. Or maybe they get it, but they just don't care. Their cynical replies to a reporter are not even subtle in sovereign tone:

community activists and council members from North Nashville soon took up the chorus, suggesting their part of town was getting screwed yet again on a major public investment. As recently as April, state Rep. Brenda Gilmore floated the mention of a lawsuit if the route was not altered.

All were valid concerns. The problem, to the Dean administration, was that they were coming years too late. By that point, according to the mayor's office and Metro transit officials, foundational decisions about the project had been set in stone.

So, if North Nashvillians wanted bus rapid transit we should have bellied up to the trough with our power and money like the wealthy West End business interests and leveraged the Metro Transit Authority budget decisions in our favor. Never mind that it would have been more ethical for the executive branch to insure that infrastructure was distributed fairly around the city in the real absence of greater influence and wealth.

In truth, many of us who have attended these "public" meetings know that there are 1,000-and-1 ways to use meetings to mask and to misdirect. Procedural tricks are used all the time by those who have mastered rules and bylaws to allow hidden agendas under the guise of transparency with deniability intact (see the excuse, "All of the meetings were public", as if the public can attend all of the meetings along with every other public meeting Metro holds).

Now, claiming that we are too late to the party is part of the confidence game. The Mayor's Office has it both ways. This thing is only set in stone now because meetings and decisions were orchestrated to foster impenetrability. And now we are the chumps who did not see it coming. As if we ever could have.

In my opinion MTA has already pulled a fast one on us by not publicizing the alternatives analysis (and I don't mean modes of transit alternatives under consideration). Had North Nashville leaders been able to see the results for studies outside the east-west corridor, they likely would have been mobilized to fight Karl Dean's exclusive reservation of BRT for West End.

But in this administration's preconceived notion of Nashville as a social Darwinist theater of winner-take-all, such popular mobilization is discouraged.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Richland Creek Watershed Alliance: call for volunteers

A call for volunteers for this weekend and the next from a worthy group to our west:


Saturday, November 9 10:30 am - West Precinct, 5500 Charlotte Pike

Saturday, November 16 10:30 am - 5634 Meadowcrest Lane

Plan to have fun, dress for the weather and to work in the dirt! Tools and refreshments provided.