Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Don't need a study to convince me that poverty is a bigger problem than gentrification in Nashville

I don't need convincing just because I can be labelled a "gentrifier." I encounter individuals once in a while who insist that gentrification is the worst thing that happens to neighborhoods like those in North Nashville. While I do not believe that gentrification--however we define it--is an absolute boon, I don't believe it's an absolute bust.

I tend to believe that the real culprit that destroys the cultural vitality and authentic diversity in established neighborhoods is poverty, untrammeled home values and skyrocketing rent that drive working class people out of our communities. I believe that gentrification, as a tool for building the middle class in diverse communities, can have a positive impact if measured and controlled so that poverty does not pool and concentrate elsewhere.

Now come indications from a national report consistent with my views:

Gentrification is the bete noire of the yuppie: once affluent professionals have settled a previously rundown neighborhood, they get cranky about how others like them are ruining the place. Nashville is the latest in the “gentrification is killing the city’s soul” meme.

Gentrifiers, however, are not ruining the US – or at least, not enough of it.

An exact opposite of gentrification is playing out. Instead of neighborhoods rebounding, they are getting older, shabbier and the people who live there are falling deeper into poverty.

The number of neighborhoods with a high poverty rate has tripled over the last 40 years, according to Joe Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi, authors of a new report published by City Observatory.

Having voiced my affinity with those findings, I hasten to add that this kind of knowledge can be twisted into an oppressive, dangerous advocacy for growth. Developers and planners could use information like this to justify wanton demolition of existing homes, headlong pursuit of maximized infill and assumed freedom to take as much wealth out of neighborhoods as planning policy allows without a call of conscience. The risk of excusing gentrification is that we give cover to developers without demanding that they address problems of poverty, too.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing gentrification a bit, too. Keeping gentrifiers honest is not a bad thing.

Meet the new next, same as the old next: why some local neighbors have little faith in Metro Planning's latest gimmicks to promote their ideas of development

Back in 2013, one neighborhood leader wrote the following to an online forum:

Residents have been made to follow the historic design guidelines for a generation, guidelines they were told must be consistent in terms of the "community character." And they were led to believe that community character is defined as:
The image of a community or area defined by such factors as its built environment, natural features and open space elements, types of housing...(and) to preserve the general character of the neighborhood as characterized by its development pattern, building form, land use and associated public realm. These areas will experience some change over time but efforts should be made to retain the existing character…
Now ..., residents are being told the community character only involves the specific design elements of buildings that can been seen from the street. Nothing abut green space, the space between buildings, the alignment of buildings, or the number of residents - or anything else the residents consider as community character - may be considered, they are told.

Residents are concerned that the new high-density cottage development with a minimum of yard space will attract a different demographic - one that is not interested in yards and gardens. They are concerned of attracting a younger demographic of single persons - such as college students - with too many cars and pets and friends to comfortably fit onto a 150 by 165 foot lot along with eight cottages.

My considered suspicion of Nashville Next is often met with disbelief, defensiveness and frustration by those who enthusiastically participated in its process or those who believe it changes nothing about past community planning.

But Nashville Next has been the next stunt to lead neighbors into believing that they have influence over their community's character, when in reality they little. Planners shift paradigms and communities are thrown off balance. Market-driven developers, power-hoarding politicians and esoteric new urbanists have the strongest hold of the reigns of planning of anyone.

It was so in 2013. It is so in 2014. And it will be so in 2015.

Two big rezoning plans proposed for Salemtown up for public hearings

Developer's plan for 1604 6th Av N

Public hearings, whether in Metro Council or in Planning Commission, are rare opportunities for neighborhoods to organize and express their will upon Metro government as to developers intentions.

There are two such chances next week:

  • Tuesday, January 6, 2015: the Metro Council holds a public hearing on the proposal for 1604 6th Av N (the "No Dogs House"). The developer met with the Salemtown association several weeks ago to talk about the concept and take feedback. The council meeting starts at 6:30.
  • Thursday, January 8, 2015: the Planning Commission holds a public hearing on the sprawling proposal for The Row at 6th & Garfield, which would tear down 8 units and replace them with 20. The developer has NOT met with the Salemtown association even though he is seeking a "specific plan," which requires community input. The association has not announced any community meetings. The planning commission meeting starts at 4:00, which of course is inconvenient for many working families to attend.

I am particularly concerned with the lack of community contact in the latter proposal, given the huge impact it will make.

UPDATE: the "No Dogs House" rezoning plan was approved on public hearing on January 6 with no one speaking in opposition to it. It then sailed easily through final approval on January 20 and awaits the Mayor's signature.

Metro Council candidate queries Germantown coffee shop owner on Madison plans

A pre-Christmas Twitter exchange between district 8 candidate Nancy VanReece and a Germantown restaurant/coffee shop owner on the latter's plans for a second shop in Madison (third, if you count plans for a Berry Hill extension) captured below. Offered without my comment, other than to say that I have positively reviewed The Red Bicycle in the past. But please feel free to comment yourselves, if so led:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflections on the Metro Police Chief's Christmas message

Many here are now well aware of Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson's open letter published the day after Christmas on the news page of the Metro government website (and then in the Tennessean). Since it has gone national, many outside of Nashville have seen it, too.

Perhaps it gets so much attention home and away because of the marked contrast between the Chief's tone and that of police in other places, especially in St. Louis and New York City.

We should positively reinforce accommodating and tolerant stances of police to protesters. Cops should respect freedom of speech, assembly and dissent. Steve Anderson deserves our thanks for acknowledging as much and distancing his department from law-and-order, shoot-first rightwingers who fail to see that even police officers have organized in order to protest, shut down major roadways and expressed civil disobedience when they believed they had the right to.

Perhaps we are so desensitized by cop violence in African American communities, by police donning anti-mine vehicles and military armor to crush popular dissent, and by thin-blue-line hubris in general that we shocked into viral elation by the words of Chief Anderson, which are no more than what we should expect and demand from the police.

While Chief Anderson is getting unqualified praise for his remarkable letter, there are caveats to his arguments and qualifications to the popular response that deserve expression.

Let's start with Chief Anderson's comments in the letter (all in bold from here on) about the peaceful nature of protesters:

Here in Nashville, persons have gathered to express their thoughts in a non-violent manner. I thank all involved for the peaceful manner in which they have conducted themselves .... None of the demonstrators in this city have in any way exhibited any propensity for violence or indicated, even verbally, that they would harm anyone.

Protesters, while disrupting business-as-usual in downtown Nashville, have indeed been non-violent and MNPD restraint is laudable. However, the Nashville protests have not reached the national notoriety via the news media to attract more opportunists who are drawn to the attention every robust social movement draws:

In every vibrant progressive social movement there comes a moment when a psychologically or emotionally disturbed person, an agent provocateur, or a political extremist commits an atrocious act that is seized upon by the State and/or the political Right as a means of attempting to discredit or outright repress the movement. The action, committed for whatever reason, is sufficiently heinous that confusion develops within the movement and the movement can lose both its momentum as well as a segment of its less committed or more ambivalent supporters.

In his comparison of recent events in NYC to backlash against protest movements in history, Columnist Bill Fletcher, Jr. insists that there will always be those drawn to movements who strive to be vicious regardless of the higher purposes of the protest. In every snowballing protest, extreme and disturbed people attempt to wreak havoc. Nashville has not reached that point, yet. We have not seen violence toward people or property during the protests. Even when state police moved in with their typical heavy hands and stopped protesters from shutting down interstates, protesters restrained themselves.

Photo credit: Ferguson Grand Jury Candlelight Vigil

Let's be fair to other cities. That does not make Music City exceptional when it comes to social protest. It could mean that we have not reached the crisis point or made the progress to gain the visibility that other protests have. When we are rocked to a scale of Greater St. Louis, New York City or Los Angeles and we still don't attract more destructive personalities, then we can claim to be different. The real test for Nashville will come if we are visited by the disturbed, the provocateurs and the extremists.

That is the actual point where police restraint and tolerance will be challenged. We should acknowledge that even as we applaud Metro Police for doing the right thing. If such an unfortunate event were to land in front of Metro Police, would they use it as a pretense to shut down, undermine and attack legitimate protesters (and in the case of Ferguson, innocent neighborhoods)? We do not know yet because we are not there yet. Social protest in Nashville is not currently at a crisis pitch.

Then there was this exchange between a complaining letter writer and Chief Anderson (bolded) about Mayor Karl Dean, which I thought was odd:

I also understand that you get direction from the mayor's office, but these actions are putting the department at disharmony from the majority of the citizens. At some point you are going to have to answer this question to yourself - "Am I following or giving orders that help or hurt the community?" In closing, if these recent actions have been due to pressure from the mayor's office, please reach out to the people of Nashville, there are many who will gladly contact the mayor's office as well ....

While I certainly appreciate your offer to intercede on my behalf with our Mayor, you should know that the Mayor has not issued any order, directive or instruction on the matter with which you take issue.  All decisions concerning the police department’s reaction to the recent demonstrations have been made within the police department and approved by me.  Therefore, any reasons or rationale supporting your proposal as what would be the best approach for all of Nashville, and not just a method of utilizing the police department to enforce a personal agenda, should be directed to me.

I do not claim to know the identity or motives of the emailer to Chief Anderson, but in case the letter was not written in good faith, in case there it was an attempt to drive a wedge between the cops and the mayor, it is worth keeping the specter of partisanship on the table as a motivating factor. There is evidence that the Tea Party, those in the Republican Party establishment and NYPD union leaders have stirred the anti-Mayor de Blasio pot, including organizing conservative cops from all over North America to attend the funeral of Ofc. Rafael Ramos and turn their backs on cue when the Mayor arrived.

Acknowledging how effective the GOP and conservatives are at online organizing, I would not put it past them to encourage one another in the various cities where protests are occurring to try to pries and polarize government executives and police departments. I am positive that red-state Tennessee Republicans are no different.

Does the letter to Chief Anderson reflect party coordination? Maybe not, but it is consistent with the strategy now afoot, the agenda conservatives flash. Karl Dean has widely-acknowledged aspirations to higher office. The complaint letter does not pass the smell test of nonpartisan innocence and thus it is not above the charge. Someone may be attempting to make some dirt stick on a Democrat.

But make no mistake. Mayor Dean is the CEO of Metro government. He has embraced that brand, particularly when it make grants him executive airs. One of three unwavering Dean campaign commitments in two elections was to public safety via Metro Police. I have heard him tout Nashville's lower rates of violent crimes on his watch. While all of the decisions on how to respond to protesters may have belonged to Chief Anderson so far, to insinuate that the Mayor will not cross the line at some point is to be disingenuous to the reality of the Metro Charter, which gives Hizzoner control over MNPD. There is no great distance between mayor and MNPD.

I am not sure it would even take a coalition of police brass, Republicans and Tea Party flunkies to push Karl Dean to lean on Chief Anderson if the protests grow as elsewhere.

Local business interests centered in the Chamber of Commerce and the Nashville Business Alliance along with wealthy campaign donors might provide the efficient cause of the Mayor stepping in to change the tolerance MNPD has shown local protesters. I hardly see him taking the risk Bill de Blasio did to provoke ire: criticizing a judicial decision not to indict an officer for his fatal chokehold on an African American man and expressing solidarity with the bereaved family. The conservatives pounced on de Blasio for that.

What do risk and solidarity mean to Mayor Dean? He did not even change his schedule to attend the North Nashville mass meeting to listen to community anger in the wake of Michael Brown's slaying in Ferguson, MO. He could not even risk the symbolism of being present. I can easily see Hizzoner putting pressure on MNPD to limit protests if they grow in order to avert risk with the business class. I cannot wrap my brain around the day he might take the stand that Chief Anderson did for the rights of Nashville protesters.

But at least the Chief is leading Metro in the right direction. He deserves credit for that.

Friday, December 26, 2014

RIP, Dix

We lost a cherished companion last night. She had been in Salemtown almost as long as we have and she was a source of great joy to our family. Good-bye, loyal friend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Previously unpublished photos of the May 2010 Nashville flood indicate urbanizing Bells Bend was and is an idea fraught with peril

Recently, Bells Bend advocate Sumter Camp sent me 2010 flood photos that he has had stored away for almost 5 years. With the 5th anniversary of the Great Nashville Flood a few months away, it is worth reconsidering the impact of the flood on various communities.

Parts of the May properties, which were originally proposed to become a "second downtown" sprawling across the Bend would have been underwater if the Planning Commission had approved the build. Given that buildings and other impervious surfaces displace flood waters, the 2010 flood waters would have likely pushed further into the Bend if May Town Center had been allowed. As Nashville Next sets new goals for infill that have the potential to drive lower income people out of city neighborhoods, we should expect increasing pressures to urbanize our vanishing agricultural villages like Scottsboro/Bells Bend. The flood is a cautionary tale instructing us to organize and to push back against such pressure.

Advocates for protecting our agricultural areas like Bells Bend share complimentary interests with urban activists who demand affordable housing and rent controls in city neighborhoods. They should be building bridges to one another for the sake of common cause.

The caption descriptions are paraphrases of Sumter's own descriptions. I am grateful to him for giving us yet another look back at the 2010 catastrophe.

Cumberland River at the bottom with the right-hand bank
just outside of the last curving row of trees.
The power lines cross the southern-most corner of the May property.

Looking the opposite direction of the preceding photo.
John Tune Airport is at upper right. Charles Bass Prison is just below it
and to the right (water in between all of the pods).

Southern end of the Bend looking west. Old Hickory Blvd runs from right to left
just above the centerline of the photo. Partially flooded I-40 lies beyond.

I asked the Tennessean to stop throwing papers at our house. They did it anyway. On Christmas Eve.

Back in early November, I pointed out to our council member at-Large Megan Barry that the local daily newspaper was not ending littering Salemtown with its advertisements each Wednesday as she suggested they would back in June. The Tennessean social media person responded with contact info to stop delivery.

Despite my cynicism (expressed above) that the Tennessean would actually change their established pattern of ignoring my stop-delivery requests, I emailed the "tmc" account provided and asked them to stop Wednesday delivery.

For my diligence, this morning we received another unwelcome gift from a Tennessean delivery drone: the plastic-wrapped "free" Wednesday advertising edition of the Tennessean.

As the littering of Salemtown continues without any options to stop it, thanks to Metro Council elves, I recall CM Barry's argument on a warm June night for leaving the Tennessean alone to do what it wills:

The conversation [about controlling the unsolicited litter dumps in neighborhoods] has led to some really good things that the Tennessean is doing .... tonight I am going to go ahead and say, “Let’s just put this to rest” and I’m going to vote against [stopping unwelcome litter in neighborhoods].

What Megan Barry helped put to rest last June was any chance you and I have of controlling a vast polluting, dead-tree corporation that is more of an advertising agency than a news source. Is it because the Tennessean stands to provide her mayoral campaign with the kind of advertising (masquerading as journalism) she could not buy? That I cannot say for sure, although it stands to reason that not rocking the boat minimizes her risk of media hits and broadsides.

However, only an Orwellian can argue that dumping dozens of rolls of unwanted paper within a community trying to keep its streets cleaned up is a "good thing."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Singer songwriter lives in Bordeaux, rose to chart-topping fame overseas and cannot get love from Nashville

Atlanta journalist, Max Blau, has a first-class story out this week in The Bitter Southerner called "Doug Seegers' Nashville Skyline." Seegers is a formerly homeless street musician who struggled in music venues in Austin and in Music City before finally being discovered by Swedish television producers in an alley behind a West Nashville food pantry. According to Blau, Seegers eventually made a TV debut in Sweden after which his song "Going Down to the River" shot to number one.

Even so, Seegers still lives in modest digs here in North Nashville and takes the bus to busk on Lower Broad:

We’re headed northbound on Highway 155 to his house in Bordeaux, a quiet suburb north of the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville. He typically rides the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority’s No. 22 bus to get to and from Bordeaux. Because we’re in a car, he’s not entirely sure about our location until we approach Clarksville Pike. He eventually gets his bearings straight and directs us toward the dead end of a quiet residential street. The singer exits the car, walks down the gravel driveway, and swings open the front door of his one-story brick house.

In spite of his fame and concert tours overseas, Nashville does not seem to be able to fit Seegers into its brand:

Seegers’ biggest challenge remains in Nashville, a city that bills itself as the home of country music, but where writers of traditional country songs now struggle to reach a wider audience. Like many talented local songwriters, the 63-year-old artist faces a tough predicament: How do you land a traditional country song on mainstream country radio? In a perfect world, Seegers would contend for airtime. You’d be hard-pressed right now to find someone who writes with more authenticity than Seegers.

Even our mayor is more likely to hang out with Jack White or Connie Britton than with buskers on Lower Broad or a guy whose rise to international fame started in a back alley behind some garbage cans:

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Selected activists" planning the future "for everyone"

There is a 3-day workshop ending today called Future Ready Nashville. Did you know about it? Until yesterday, I did not.

This is the description of the goal:

America has reached a point where almost all problems can be solved, especially at the local level. Nashville has everything it needs to be Future Ready. This program invites selected activists to experience the DesignShop process, while launching our intentional process of making Nashville Future Ready.

This is the resort-like facility the invited, selected activists are meeting in to "design" Nashville's future:

But what really goes against every populist bone in my body is the idea that a meeting intended to design a future "for everyone" is not open to just anyone.

05 | Create a Vision
So, what is the world that you want to see for...EVERYONE?

I do not see much social change to the status quo in Nashville coming from this meeting. This is how elites in Nashville have operated for a long time: top-down and select. Open, public meetings continue to be marginalized as gauche. Future Ready Nashville seems to be more of a networking opportunity for the participants than a community-based organizing effort, but I am interested to see how they eventually try to implement their designs on our neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are we close enough to Nashville's new ballpark to spot the manure?

Aaron Gordon at Vice Sports engages in a scathing open dialogue with a New York Times article regarding Washington, DC's plan to subsidize a new soccer stadium for its pro-team. While Gordon's entire piece is worthy of your time and attention, I wanted to comment on his observations about the lack of promised economic development that was to come with the opening six years ago of a new professional baseball park.

It seems relevant to North Nashville's close proximity to the new Nashville Sounds' home, First Tennessee Park, which is promised to bring dramatic economic development to the Jefferson Street corridor and the nearby neighborhoods. NYT comments are in bold; Gordon's replies are unbolded:

City leaders say the 20,000-seat stadium will serve as a catalyst for economic development for this area of southwest Washington, the way that Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, did for its formerly stagnant neighborhood just a few blocks north and east.

Amazingly, the second half of this sentence directly contradicts the first. It takes 12 minutes to walk from Nationals Park to the very tip of Buzzard Point. If Nationals Park—which cost $700 million of taxpayer money—was such a catalyst for economic development, why do they need to build another nine-figure stadium a few blocks away?

Maybe because it didn't revitalize anything.

This has been the case in other Washington neighborhoods after the city voted to approve major new public venues...

Oh, cool! I mean, if it's worked before...

...including the Verizon Center, home to the N.B.A.'s Wizards and the N.H.L.'s Capitals since 1997;...

That was privately funded by then-owner Abe Polin, so not really a public investment! OK, what else?

...and the 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center, completed in 2003, in revitalized Mount Vernon Square.

Wait, seriously?

I lived in the DC area for eight years, including a year and a half in Shaw, which lies just north of Mount Vernon. The above sentiment about Mount Vernon being "revitalized" is the kind of buried horseshit you can only spot if you're close enough to smell it.

Granted, the cost of the DC baseball stadium in taxpayer money was about 10 times what First Tennessee Park is going to cost Nashvillians in taxes. The flip side of that: the logic unfolds that the economic development in DC communities should proportionately be 10 times what was promised for North Nashville neighborhoods.

However, nearby DC neighborhoods got zilch.

Let's focus on the DC developer's comment that local lawmakers may have rigged expectations too high in order to give the ballpark project momentum. Some of us have been shouting that from jump with Nashville's ballpark. But to the point: they rationalized after the damage was done by minimizing the impact of the new ballpark, saying it is "just a very small piece" of development in the neighborhoods. Will First Tennessee ballpark developers and team owners thusly walk back their spin in the coming years? Will they be minimizing the claims Hizzoner kept making in late 2013 about how a new ballpark will create Jeff St. "revival"?

(If they're honest, they'll acknowledge that our neighborhoods were developing and gentrifying well before a new ballpark rose to the level of anything above a nostalgic pipe dream).

Like DC, Nashville has a convention center that is not performing to the results promised. Nashville is getting half the projected hotel nights, and no doubt tourists will compete for parking spaces downtown with minor league baseball fans for parking spaces during the summer (Metro officials said they hope Sounds fans use shrinking downtown parking opportunities). When they aren't competing downtown they will be choking on-street parking in Germantown, Hope Gardens and Salemtown.

The logic of overrated convention centers also applies to subsidized ballparks:

The whole process is basically maneuvered by the business community — banks, hotels, retailers, construction industries, others who will profit while the city loses .... Cities’ corporate movers and shakers long ago figured out how to get their new centers or expansions without the voters having a say.

The rising $70,000,000 Nashville is giving minor league team owner Frank Ward does one thing above all: it minimizes his family's risk and it maximizes inflated income from ticket and merchandising sales. It does so at our expense, even though our own elected officials allowed practically no influence over the deal. In particular it allows Mr. Ward to sell luxury boxes to rich people from Brentwood and Williamson County who would be more likely to snap up real estate investments in our urban core neighborhoods than to patronize and to put their cash in the pockets of the locally owned businesses up and down Jefferson Street.

Again, regular make-ends-meet taxpayers are the losers in this scenario, because economic benefits pad the pocketbooks of the people privately invested in the ballpark and other nearby properties. The latter need no financial assistance. Little will come back to us regardless of whether this particular ballpark bucks the trend and the science that indicate that any economic impact of sports venues is negligible and fabricated.

I am still waiting for someone to stop cheerleading and to begin explaining to me logically how the ballpark makes our lives cumulatively better in Salemtown when the costs are frankly and fearlessly considered.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

4th Av N Specific Plan passes muster with Planning Commission on consent agenda

While the Planning Commission still has to hold a public hearing on the SP plan slated for 1614/1616 4th Av N, they gave preliminary unanimous approval last week for via their consent agenda (which is a slate of proposals voted on as a whole; unless individual plans are pulled off the consent agenda, they are voted on without discussion). If the plan survives the public hearing stage and gets final approval from the commission, it will go to Metro Council as recommended by planning and only needing a simple majority for council approval.

There are several conditions this plan has to meet, according to the Planning Department, including fire code requirements and a Public Works requirement to remove striping from parking spaces in the row. Here is Planning's recommendation:

Staff recommends approval with conditions and disapproval without all conditions as it is consistent with the North Nashville Community plan and meets several critical planning goals.

1. Use in the SP is limited to up to 7 residential units.
2. For any development standards, regulations and requirements not specifically shown on the SP plan and/or included as a condition of Council approval, the property shall be subject to the standards, regulations and requirements of the RM15 zoning district as of the date of the applicable request or application.
3. Minor modifications to the preliminary SP plan may be approved by the Planning Commission or its designee based upon final architectural, engineering or site design and actual site conditions. All modifications shall be consistent with the principles and further the objectives of the approved plan. Modifications shall not be permitted, except through an ordinance approved by Metro Council that increase the permitted density or floor area, add uses not otherwise permitted, eliminate specific conditions or requirements contained in the plan as adopted through this enacting ordinance.
4. The requirements of the Metro Fire Marshal’s Office for emergency vehicle access and adequate water supply for fire protection must be met prior to the issuance of any building permits.

If you want to read the rest of their analysis, it starts on page 74 here.

I have not perceived any changes that Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association is asking developers to make, so I would be surprised if anyone shows up at the public hearing to address the plan. The developers met with the association in October. Barring any surprises, this plan will probably breeze through the commission and Metro Council.

Don't know about the accuracy of the 150-year-old North Capitol history, but the geography is all wrong

Pith in the Wind blogger Betsy Phillips contends that she "solved the mystery" of a 150-year-old photo taken of Civil War soldiers during the Battle of Nashville. She argues that the photo was taken from Capitol Hill facing Germantown and North Nashville, given the current topography:

Well, there's only one place in town where you're going to be on a hill, overlooking a train trestle, and can see Fisk off in the distance — Capitol Hill facing Germantown. Here's a contemporary picture from the TSLA for comparison (though you can't see Fisk, because of the trees, but you can see farther than Fisk, because you can see the highrise on the far side of the river in Bordeaux, thus, if there were no trees, you'd be able to see Fisk.).05042010_flood_16.jpg

The problem with Phillips' theory is that the 2010 photo above could not possibly have captured Fisk in its angle. TSLA's camera orientation is pointed northwest. Fisk lies at an angle farther west of the camera position. A look at screenshot from Google Earth makes that plain:

Click on to enlarge.

The Bordeaux highrise Kelly Miller Smith Tower (not included in the screenshot, but to the left of center in the TSLA photo) lies on a direct line down 10th Ave N., through Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church (whose steeple is clearly seen in the TSLA photo) to Capitol Hill. The farthest straight western line shown in the TSLA photo stops near where Jefferson Street crosses over the interstate, 3 blocks east of the Fisk campus. The Bordeaux highrise Kelly Miller Smith Tower is near Clarksville Highway, which drops down south to become D.B. Todd, Jr. Blvd, which brushes up against Fisk, but that road is not a straight shot between the highrise tower and the university. The road doglegs away from downtown at Clay St. Fisk does not actually sit between Capitol Hill and the Bordeaux highrise Kelly Miller Smith Tower. It sits off to the western side.

By the way, the photo of Fisk that appears on the masthead of my blog was taken from a spot near the intersection of Union and 9th Av. N, not too far from Capitol Hill. The sunset should tell you I am pointing my camera west. Also note that there are leaves on trees, but Fisk's main buildings sit high enough on a hill itself so as not to be blocked from sight. The Jubilee Bridge can also be seen in the masthead to the left of the Memorial Chapel's spire. Again, the theory that the TSLA shot--taken on the northern side of Capitol Hill--includes Fisk does not hold water.

Obviously I cannot speak to the actual location of the 150-year-old photo or the history of North Nashville during the Civil War, but I can say that if Betsy Phillips is operating under the assumption that the 2010 photo includes the Fisk campus, her theory that Capitol Hill is the only place the old photo could have been snapped is itself open to debate.

Whether the history is right, the geography is all wrong.

UPDATE: Based on Mike Peden's comments below and in respect for the legacy of the late Rev. Kelly Miller Smith, I corrected my references to the "Bordeaux highrise" to reflect its proper name.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Is this Salemtown development designed for people or for cars?

Over the past year--whether concerning a new bus rapid transit line or an $18 million pedestrian bridge--the Mayor's Office has drummed into our heads that the strapping millennial generation is different than others in that they want more walkable neighborhoods and more mass transit. In short, they don't care for cars.

What's good for public dollars ought to be good for private dollars, too, so why is Dale & Associates builders planning a high-density build in Salemtown with what looks like parking for at least 40 cars? New builds are marketed to millennials who don't subscribe to car culture (unlike baby boomers), so why do these the developers of "The Row at 6th and Garfield" plan to pave/build over what looks like about 80% of the land across 5 properties?

Accommodations for 40 cars?!!

It seems brash enough to demolish 8 units across those 5 plots and build 20 in a neighborhood zoned mostly for medium density. However, I can grasp the logic that the urban core is going to become more, not less dense over time. What I fail to appreciate is taking out what are currently modest rentals that accommodate working-class folk in are increasingly being pushed out of Salemtown. What I fail to fathom is why one more project is being built for upwardly mobile millennials, with no mention of affordable options to hang on to diversity. What I fail to respect is the idea that the space will be more devoted to servicing cars than people; in an age where we are told that millennials are giving up their cars.

Current configuration: 8 units, maybe a dozen parking spaces.

Some in the new urbanist klatch refer to this corner as the "last remaining corner at 6th and Garfield," even as it continues to be occupied families with children. Part of the problem with the gentrifying mindset it that it renders people of modest income invisible. The more profound attribution to me is that if The Row at 6th and Garfield is built as currently planned, then the last patch of considerable green space at this intersection will be paved over. It is not uncommon to see children playing on the grassy areas whenever I pass this intersection.

The builders of each of the other three developments (one is Dale & Associates) at the intersection took vacant lots with nothing but green space and built town homes with completely paved car ways in the back. They left thin slivers of green space ringing each of the developments. So, The Row at 6th and Garfield would complete the trend of orienting intersection completely to car traffic regardless of environmental and stormwater run-off impact.

While the question of 20 units may not be as much of an issue in the urban core, the question of parking for 40 cars in the core makes 20 units too much for this intersection. The owners of these properties are allowed to build what they wish within the current medium density parameters, but they are requesting rezoning for 40 cars. They have to have community support to be permitted to build for 40 cars.

In my opinion, it is unwise for Salemtown to support to the idea of parking for 40 cars in one development. We need to ask the developers to scale down their build more practically for the people they are marketing to. Why not double the number of units from 8 to 16 and reduce the number of car provisions to 32 (or less since millennials don't prefer cars)? And they should be required to include affordable housing components in the project.

If the men of Dale are going to ask for our support in their bid to maximize land owners' investments, then they should be willing to give something back to our community.

UPDATE: I took a photo of the MTA bus stop closest to the properties where The Row at 6th and Garfield would be built. The blue sign marks the stop. The red brick duplexes in the center background of the photo are the properties in question. We are talking about a few dozen feet to walk to catch a bus that runs straight down 5th Av N to downtown's central station in around 5-10 minutes (yes, I have picked up a bus there before), where other buses can take riders anywhere in Nashville.

Again, if mass transit is a comer with potential buyers, and they do not have to walk even a block to access mass transit, why should developers include 40 parking spaces at The Row at 6th and Garfield?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is the Salemtown neighborhood association prepared for these January rezoning requests?

Salemtown Neighbors does not traditionally hold December business meetings deferring instead to hosting a holiday social. This tradition will hold in 2014, but given news of some requests for rezoning due for public hearing in January, the association officers may want to consider discussing them since they will happen before the January 2015 business meeting:

A seven-home courtyard style project is slated for 1614 and 1616 Fourth Ave. N. Dale & Associates will go before the Metro Planning Commission on Thursday, Dec. 11, to request the SP.

At 1618 Fourth Ave. N., and on the southeast corner of the intersection of Garfield Street and Fourth, an eight-unit development with six attached townhomes to face Garfield and a two-family dwelling to address Fourth is planned. D&A will go before the commission on Thursday, Jan. 8.

And at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue North and Garfield, a 20-unit attached-townhomes development is being targeted. Seven of the units would face Sixth, eight would address Garfield and five would run along an alley. The project would replace the four existing duplexes seen here in an image courtesy of Google Maps. D&A also will address the commission about this project on Jan. 8.

The project that is before the Planning Commission tomorrow (1614 and 1616 4th Av N) was already vetted and discussed by the association at their October business meeting. The association made no requests for changes, even though an "SP" ("Specific Plan") allows them to leverage changes to the plan in exchange for community support of the plan. However, those developers promised in October to keep the association in the communication loop as plans unfolded. I have not heard anything from SNNA officers on new plan developments since that meeting. Maybe it is time for an update? I would hate to be blind-sided by tomorrow's commission meeting.

The association has not heard from the developers for the larger 8-unit development at Garfield and 4th Av N or what sounds like a massive one at Garfield and 6th Av N. Most of Salemtown is zoned "R6" for medium density single family detached homes or duplexes, so I assume that the developers are seeking rezoning. At the very least, we should be discussing the impact of replacing 8 units with 20 units at 6th Av N and Garfield. The street parking situation on Garfield alone is getting silly with the existing onslaught of new builds.

Since rezoning cases are about the only times the neighborhood can have direct influence or control over what gets built and the plans' consistency with Salemtown's character, I hope the association officers are keeping tabs on this. I have heard nothing from them as an SNNA member. Hopefully, they are considering making more of a social media effort beyond promoting cookies and dog grooming on the association's Facebook page.

In my opinion, Roy Dale's development company has a debatable track record of building in Salemtown and so we need to stay on our toes and vigilant about these proposals. Otherwise, in a few years we may regret letting this opportunity go by without exercising some control over the process. I hope the officers are keeping their eye on the ball despite the distractions of the holiday season. Developers are notorious for sneaking controversial proposals through the Planning Commission when neighbors are distracted by the holidays. We need to keep tabs on Dale & Associates for that reason alone.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Mixed results still bedevil the question of the economic impact of sports venues on neighborhood businesses

First Tennessee Park is rising dramatically now between Salemtown/ Germantown and downtown. The next stages will be the mixed-use residential and parking garage that will effectively swallow the compressed ballpark facade. As all of this is unfolding, I continue to look around the country for economic impact information from other communities with new sporting venues.

The latest news is from Brooklyn (NYC) and it bears what seems to me to be a continuing theme of enigma:

When the Barclays Center opened in Downtown Brooklyn two years ago, some thought the arena would reinvigorate a section of the borough that had yet to capitalize on its potential, while others believed the neighborhood’s small businesses would meet their demise.

As the arena prepares to celebrate its second anniversary and host an expected 300 events annually, the impact it has had on small businesses appears to be mixed. Some of the stores that survived the seismic shift brought by the 18,000-seat venue report an uptick in patronage, while others remain unaffected ....

Some businesses were not equipped to adapt to the changing environs. According to one news report, roughly 100 local shops shut their doors in the Barclays Center’s first year.

Robert Perris, the district manager for Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, which includes the Barclays Center, corroborated that the type of businesses in the arena’s immediate vicinity has changed.

“It does seem that there has been a loss of some smaller businesses and an increase in some better capitalized businesses,” Mr. Perris acknowledged ....

“It does seem that the streets and individual buildings that have benefitted the most are the ones that can be seen from the Barclays Center,” Mr. Perris said. “It sort of requires a more adventurous arena-goer, someone who does their research ahead of time instead of getting to the arena and looking around and making a spontaneous decision where to go.”

Without more intentional action on the part of leaders, it seems reasonable for us to assume that First Tennessee Park will have the same impact: destablizing small neighborhood businesses and attracting high-visibility, "big box" corporations to Jefferson Street. Character could give way to high-volume (merchandise and traffic).

This information joins a growing compilation of reports of ambiguous economic impact around sports venues. In St. Louis new ballpark amenities are encouraging baseball fans to ignore once popular neighborhood businesses. Louisville subsidized a new arena that did not deliver the promised job growth. Minor league officials admit that, regardless of local claims to the contrary, baseball is not in the business of urban redevelopment. Indeed, the politicians have a track record of ludicrous promises invented to leverage subsidies for sports venues. Yet, according to independent research, there is no proven connection between pro sports subsidies and economic development.

So, with First Tennessee Park sprinting to its 2015 Opening Day completion, those of us who are its neighbors face uncertain prospects built on a shaky foundation of empty, unsubstantiated promises. On the one hand, we can assume that new businesses inside the development that includes First Tennessee Park will attempt to lure patrons away from existing Jefferson Street businesses. On the other hand, we have no idea what will happen to our quality of life when 8,400 commuters are "injected" into our residential area 70 times during the summer.

While the Courthouse and developers depict the ballpark as a rising tide that will lift all ships in our neighborhoods, it also has the potential, based on evidence, elsewhere to be a one-two punch to the gut.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Marshaled by mayoral candidate Megan Barry, the council refuses to discuss any downside to the Bridgestone dealio

In October CM Megan Barry characterized the problems that uneven growth causes in places like North Nashville as "growing pains" completely ignoring the historical prejudice and systemic flow of resources away from our neighborhoods. By minimizing the collateral shambles and planned blight caused by growth, she ignored how North Nashville has perennially been treated as a dumping ground for wealthy Nashville's refuse and as new territory for white settlement after real estate prices bottom out. Her answer to the "growing pains" is "transportation and affordable housing." Ironically, her last significant transportation vote as council member was to fund that $18 million sidewalk, exclusively serving downtown, while some Madison children walk to school in the street. Has she considered the limitations of calculating what gets called "affordable housing" in gentrifying neighborhoods?

Last night she also made clear that another option she would favor as mayor would be more of the same untamed corporate sweetheart deals that Karl Dean has become a rock star at ginning up while benignly ignoring North Nashville:

By turning this parking lot into a permanent [Bridgestone] fixture in the Nashville skyline, we are moving Nashville forward .... We are going to keep 1,100 Nashville jobs, but we are going to add 600 new jobs in Nashville with an average salary of $93,000 in which it increases our tax base for schools, for transportation and for public safety .... Let's be clear this is not a corporate giveaway.

Ms. Barry went on to soft-pedal one of the more alarming aspects of Dean's deal: Bridgestone can lay-off up to 20% of the 1,700 people it promises to deliver without losing its tax-free status with Metro. She said that "if Bridgestone fails to deliver" 1,700 jobs by the end of 2020, Metro can "claw back" a fraction of the taxes owed. But Bridgestone is still given leeway to shed 20% of this workforce and still be exempt from property taxes. The Bridgestone boosters are not being entirely honest about the risks of this deal. As one reporter put it, "Council members stayed away from discussing any possible downside to the Bridgestone deal."

The Orwellian dimensions of council supporters' comments about the Bridgestone deal are staggering. Bridgestone is not obligated to create any new permanent jobs. The company is praised for importing 600 out-of-state employees, but it can shed over half of the 600's filled positions and still keep its tax break. Supporters also tout Bridgestone's pledge to donate $150,000 to Metro schools. $150,000. That's it. They're getting a $56,300,000 hand-out from Nashville, and they're only pledging $150,000 to our schools, which I assume they can claim on their tax returns. Yet, in CM Barry's words, "this is not a corporate giveaway."

Another Orwellian moment was CM Barry's claim that the new Bridgestone building would be a permanent fixture in the Nashville skyline. Backing her up, CM Erica Gilmore said the HQ would "forever change" the skyline. The only real constant with regard to buildings in Nashville is that older ones are torn down to make room for newer ones, regardless of the history or need to preserve what is important to people here. Anyone who claims that there is permanence in Nashville's built environment is acting misleadingly and dishonestly. A new building downtown may be here for a long time, or it may give way to some future capital project subsidized by the mayor and ballyhooed by a blustery council.

Megan Barry is right about one thing. The new Bridgestone HQ is going to be a fixture, permanent or not, on the Nashville skyline that many will be able to see. Many in North Nashville who will never have the opportunity at any possible living wage jobs Bridgestone might catalyze will see it, too. And that is as close as they are going to get to the sense of entitlement downtown. The Bridgestone HQ sits on a far horizon for most of those who work their livings in this town. Average North Nashvillians will not be enjoying those $93,000 jobs even if the projected taxes on them eventually trickle down here and there like crumbs from the master's table.

And Megan Barry will continue to minimize the growth-induced plight of working people as "growing pains" that are somehow necessary when a city barters away its corporate tax base due to the Courthouse terror that companies might plead poverty and abandon it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The dance of the rubber stamp fairy: Metro Council goes through the motions of "considering" the bid to bribe Bridgestone to stay in Nashville

The gingerbread soldiers put up more of a fight against the mice army in the Nutcracker than Metro Council is mustering against King Karl's latest public-private partnership payola to keep the Bridgestone headquarters in Nashville. Two weeks ago the local news media reported the beginning of "the debate" on Bridgestone in council chambers; the council passed the deal on first reading without a peep.

They promise us now that the plan is up for second reading that they will actually discuss the question. Metro Council may have started their cursory chinfest on the mayor's corporate welfare plan but it looks much like the confabs the preceded other major subsidy proposals (like Dean's plan to build the Sounds a new ballpark). It is a foregone conclusion. This deal is predestined to win because this council rubber stamps everything Karl Dean proposes.

Here is what happened yesterday when Dean's deal was heard by the most important committee the council has. Not much of anything:

At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine, during a series of questions with Metro officials, alluded to a policy stance of Jeremy Kane, a mayoral candidate .... In a letter to council members over the weekend, Kane called for a reduction in the size of Bridgestone's property tax abatement in order to protect revenue that could be used on public schools.

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, who defended the administration's commitment to education, said that while one can always second-guess negotiations "this was one that was done thinking about the best interests of the city." He also suggested it would be difficult to amend the deal at this juncture.

"It would be very difficult to change what's been agreed upon at this point in time," Riebeling said.

At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, another mayoral candidate for the 2015 race — and the only one among the five declared candidates who will take a vote on the Bridgestone deal — called the proposal "a really great deal." She said it would keep a major headquarters in Nashville, bring high-quality new jobs and reinvigorate downtown.

"We can take apart all the different pieces of this … There are probably pieces that we could refine and change, but that's not the deal on the table," she said.

The role of council in this process was defined by Mr. Riebeling's comment that the deal is already done between the principals (the Mayor, the Governor and Bridgestone), and the council cannot do much about it. This is the body we elect to represent us when Hizzoner will not, even though they have practically no power to do so.

Even if they did, CM Steine and CM Barry make it clear that they do not have the fortitude or the will to question the decisions that Karl Dean makes. Ronnie Steine has been unquestioningly loyal to the mayor since we forgave his unpleasant brush with the law and put him back in office.

For her part, CM Barry merely echoed the Dean administration's talking point that the Bridgestone deal is good for all of Nashville; just like she parroted his point that the opulent Gulch pedestrian bridge will inexplicably connect all of Nashville. What she will not address is the jeopardy placed on Metro services--sidewalks, school buildings. libraries, park programming, community policing, etc--by permitting one of Nashville's biggest employers to skip their property tax obligations for 20 years. $56 million is a lot of money for Nashville to risk losing and, per Karl Dean's usual script, Bridgestone is not risking a doggone thing.

But then again, neither is Megan Barry. She rarely has from her seat on the Metro Council.

I'll give mayoral candidate Jeremy Kane only partial credit for trying to set himself apart and prompt a more lively council discussion of the budget implications of Hizzoner's shortsighted trade-offs. It may seem noble to try to shield Metro school income from the brutal realities of selling off public goods to private corporations. (There is irony here given that Mr. Kane is an unwavering charter school advocate, and we see the damage privatization does to public education). However, in the breakneck shell game of Metro budgeting, shielding Metro school income can come at the expense of other services in departments that serve a clientele wider than and including children in public schools. In sum, his Bridgestone option is itself weak and impractical.

No Nashvillians should be put at risk so that Bridgestone can get wealthier than it already is. Maybe it makes no difference, given the Mayor's executive power, that Metro Council refuses to acknowledge that. But wouldn't it be quaint if for once they interrupted their dance and went through offbeat motions?

UPDATE:  According to one news source, our Deaniac overlords are enraged with the Kane mutiny. I wonder if Mr. Kane's rather limp waywardness opens up a place at Karl Dean's right hand for Megan Barry, who is forever loyal to Hizzoner:

The day after releasing the letter, Kane told the Scene he supports the Bridgestone package and wants it to pass. He veers away from anything that could resemble a criticism of the Dean administration, but the implication of his proposal seems clear enough: Could the city have gotten a better deal?

Behind the scenes, the Dean administration is livid that Kane made such a public display without approaching them for clarification.

If anything, this scores just how important loyalty is to the Dean administration. Remember how important it was in the George W. Bush presidency? It seems to have those proportions with Karl Dean. Any independent query draws their ire. All questions should be run by the Mayor's Office before they are made public. No wonder Metro Council is so whipped.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Protest in Nashville and the conflict avoiders

It has been an eventful 24 hours on the social protest front. 170 organized protests occurred across the United States in the wake of the grand jury acquittal of Ferguson, MO cop Darren Wilson in the shooting of Mike Brown, a teenager.

I-24 shutdown. Photo credit:
Ferguson Grand Jury Candlelight Vigil
One of those protests happened here in Nashville, generated by a Facebook group and expanded after 200 were gathered at the downtown police station last night. How a Tennessean reporter interpreted the next sequence of events:

Then, at Commerce Street and 5th Avenue, around 8:47 p.m., the demonstrators talked among themselves and decided to lie down for the first time. By this time, people were walking from various side streets to join the protesters.

In the middle of one intersection, one woman turned to the protesters, raised her hand and asked: "Are you ready to lay down for Michael Brown? Are you brave enough to lay down for him?"

This scene played out at several intersections along the city, but no instance of protesters moving toward a high-traffic thoroughfare was more dramatic than when protesters left the intersection of Woodland Street and Interstate Drive and started up the entrance ramp to Interstate 24.

The reporter also wrote that the police did not attempt to suppress the demonstrations, but did try to talk protesters out of going on to the interstate to no avail. I-24 was blocked for awhile. Protesters eventually left on their own. Police restraint and nonmilitarism drew the predictable hail of ire from local conservative social media.

So, Metro Police deserve credit for showing protesters respect. Will they continue to do so if protests here reoccur with what will inevitably result in rising pressure from business special interests and red-state conservatives to crack down?

Compare last night's protests and shutdowns to a letter published two days ago by Nashville Unites leader Bishop Joseph Walker, III. I do not see how this letter calls anyone in Nashville--beyond people most likely to take to the streets in protest--accountable for making our city a better place to live. Instead, it seems to single out the protesters and it gives movers and shakers the benefit of the doubt:

A Grand Jury in St. Louis County, Missouri has made its decision. Ferguson Police Office Darren Wilson will not be indicted for the killing of Michael Brown. I know this will pain and anger many in America, particularly African Americans. But I implore you to think and pray before you react.

Today, we must reach out, not strike back. Turn your anger into productive energy. Speak up and speak out, but don¹t scream. The physical and verbal violence has got to stop. We have the power to end it by starting substantive conversations in our communities.

Today, think about Jesus's message of peace and understanding. Then put His message into a modern context. Move from the street to the sanctuary ­and bring the entire community with you. Wherever you are in America right now, go to your churches and invite others whom you perceive to be the other to join you. Invite law enforcement in. Invite a broad spectrum of community leaders in ....

We have begun this process in Nashville by forming Nashville Unites. It encourages ongoing dialogue between communities, law enforcement, educational institutions, and governmental and non-governmental organizations. It aims to establish and promote shared goals for a better city. Nashville Unites represents organized momentum towards understanding.

Let today¹s decision out of Ferguson be the day we stop the useless posturing and finger-pointing on all sides. The time has come to reach out and invite each other in.

Unless you have a broad definition of "sanctuary," you would have to confess that last night protesters in Nashville did not heed Bishop Walker's call to bring it into church. Protesters essentially invited police into dangerous roadways to block traffic and temporarily halt commerce, transit and entertainment in the city (not the first time this has happened in Nashville).

And who can blame them? Nashville Unites was formed several months ago. Instead of getting out ahead and being a drum major, that organization has been incremental at best, quiet at worst about police militarization and brutality. It is street-level invisible. Why should protesters feel any need to heed such a letter? They pushed the limits of the possible last night and exercised some power.

Preaching peace where there is no justice is offering sedatives to those who would otherwise organize to claim their place at the table. They have been cut off from opportunities and equal rights. They need leaders who will help them focus anger and frustration in empowering ways rather than deadening the bounce. The Nashville way of politics seems to be: "Let's all act like we get along, collaborate and pretend there are no problems. Those dissenters? Ignore them and they'll stop. Nothing to see here. Move on." Speaking truth to power is highly risky in a city that strives to shield its power networks of patronage with a window-dressing of popular togetherness.

For the first time in a long time, Metro Nashville is starting to get tested by popular protest. It should have been tested by the local Occupy Wall Street movement, but that protest failed to challenge the Courthouse and Chamber of Commerce. I am curious to see whether these demonstrators can keep it up and how the police decide to deal with future shutdowns.

As long as I am ending this post with conflict avoiders, it is worth pointing out that the 2015 mayoral candidates continue to run silent on this question. What will it take for them to come out of hiding?

UPDATE: During an interview with reporters on last week's Nashville Ferguson protest the police chief said that if Nashvillians want to express their thoughts in a public forum "even if it against the government," their 1st Amendment rights will be protected and "be treated fairly by the police officers involved." Asked if Metro Police would "be more assertive" in cracking down on future protests, the chief said that they evaluate each situation individually and "have the most appropriate response possible."  Here is the entire interview:

It is worth noting that the reporters' questions were bent toward assumptions that protesters should be controlled above all else, and they asked no questions about militarization or when police would consider it necessary to use military-style weaponry on nonviolent protesters. It is clear to me that the local news media is bent more toward law and order over justice and protection of rights. They constitute one more source leveraging cops to misbehave and crack down on dissent and on organized interruption of business-as-usual.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bridgestone paid for the study that concluded that Bridgestone will bring billions to Nashville

Straight up, tell me: would you be more likely to rely on a study that was funded by a business that stands to benefit from the study's conclusions or a study that was conducted independently of the risk/reward to the business activity studied?

If you in the former group, you likely will have no qualms (like I do) about news of a study of the "economic impact" of a new Nashville Bridgestone headquarters:

Bridgestone Americas' decision to move its corporate headquarters to downtown Nashville will generate $1.7 billion in additional economic activity in Greater Nashville during the next 20 years, or $87 million annually, according to a economic impact report by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville ....

Bridgestone paid for the UT-Knoxville report.

I should point out that the original story on the study did not contain the last sentence about where the funding is coming from until I pointed the omission out to the news source. Omitting that information was effectively leaving off an important disclaimer that affects the trustworthiness of the study itself. Otherwise, people will believe that some professor conducted the research in pristine disinterestedness. To their credit, they added the disclaimer.

Go read the research "findings" for yourself, but I choose to believe that we are left wanting an independent, double-blind study of even such a slippery, subjective topic as "economic impact."

There were two other cities that Nashville beat out for the HQ. Were area researchers hired in those cities to tout the economic impact of a new building for Bridgestone? If so, the corporate pattern appears to be to use contracted university researchers to market the product.

Bridgestone subsidiary hired an African warlord to "squeeze out" profits as Bridgestone lost money

Jim Cooper and Megan Barry at Karl Dean's Bridgestone announcement.

On top of all of his other government handouts to corporations, sports teams and TV shows, Mayor Karl Dean plans to give the Bridgestone company $50 million keep its headquarters in Nashville. There is no promise of new jobs, but only that 1,100 existing positions in Nashville and 600 in other states would be relocated downtown. In exchange, Bridgestone does not have to pay property taxes for 20 years (even though politicians are fond of saying that relocating business mean more property taxes to pay for Metro services).

Got it? There is no requirement that new jobs be created, although the Tennessean gushed that Bridgestone is "welcome" to create some.

Thanks to Mayor Dean (and Republican Governor Bill Haslam) the international auto parts manufacturer will be squeezing profits out of this Nashville deal (after the compliant Metro Council approves) for the next 20 years, obligation-free.

My concerns about how we're going to pay for vital infrastructure in the future while Hizzoner hands out free candy to corporations is strictly a first world problem; although it is a problem that falls disproportionately on working class people. Bridgestone also has a significant third world problem: the company does not have a clean past on the human rights front.

In the 1990s, their subsidiary Firestone had financial arrangements with rebel forces in Africa lead by Charles Taylor who would eventually be convicted for crimes and imprisoned for crimes against humanity. ProPublica has a podcast on the "secret history" of Firestone's dealings. Here is an exerpt:

During this time Bridgestone is purchasing Firestone in a big corporate merger back in the United States. It's a disaster by many accounts, and Bridgestone was losing money. So, they're trying to squeeze profits out of anywhere they can, and if you're the manager of the branch that holds Firestone, you're looking to save wherever you can. And so, Firestone is now this plantation ... making no money at all. Losing money. And so, you want to get it to become this profit-making enterprise again. And you have this connection ... with the people of Liberia that you don't want to break .... After months of negotiation they reach a deal in January of 1992 .... It's a memorandum of understanding between Firestone and Charles Taylor's government .... Firestone says, "We'll come back and we'll start paying taxes ... to Charles Taylor. In return, Charles Taylor will provide them with security. Now keep in mind that Charles Taylor is running a rebel army. This is not a state. So, essentially, Firestone is hiring a guerrilla army to protect their investments and they are paying money to a guerrilla army, which is trying to take over a country .... At the bottom line, money gets moved around, and Firestone was contributing to the war chest of Charles Taylor.

Late in the podcast, the ProPublica reporter talks about the long-term consequences of Firestone's financial arrangement with the African warlord:

One of the most shocking things about Liberia, is that there is not a single person who has ever been convicted of crimes against Liberians in a war that left 200,000 people dead [from 1989 to 1996]. Where there was thousands and thousands of child soldiers. Where there was cannibalism and people were eaten alive, burned, raped. An entire generation essentially erased, and no one has been held responsible for that .... You can't make a direct connection between what Firestone did in the 1990s and the Ebola crisis today. What is true is that the Liberian civil war ... led largely by Charles Taylor absolutely destroys the country. And afterwards, the people who helped in that destruction ... are never held accountable. So, now they're running the country. So, the very people who destroyed the country are no in charge of rebuilding it .... Liberia received tons and tons of aid after the civil war ended. Where has that gone? Why hasn't the health system improved? .... It's very easy to make a link between the civil war and Liberia's current horrible disease situation with Ebola.

ProPublica makes it clear that Charles Taylor relied on the money he received from Firestone to build an empire that waged war on its own people. That war destroyed infrastructure and created deadly social conditions, which made the Ebola cataclysm inevitable.

Since Mayor Karl Dean is proposing that Nashville taxpayers subsidize Bridgestone's new skyscraper headquarters with public dollars, the company should be held accountable for political conditions it generates with subsidized wealth at home and abroad. We should be more circumspect before gushing about how good Bridgestone is for people and jumping on their bandwagon.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The new ballpark blows its $65,000,000 Metro budget and the casualties include our future services from Public Works and Metro Water

First Tennessee Park wants you to marvel in the glory of their beige bricks
as the ballpark construction budget hits a wall.
[screenshot from their Instagram account]

Last year Mayor Karl Dean, with a big assist from my very own council member Erica Gilmore, ramrodded the plan for First Tennessee Park through the compliant Metro Council with little or no discussion and minimal chances for community feedback. When it was suggested that the developer/owner Frank Ward be held liable for any budget overages beyond the $65,000,000 budget, CM Jerry Maynard called it "a poison pill", supporters wrote in letters not to stipulate such a responsibility on poor, cash-strapped Mr. Ward. The compliant council--with the enthusiastic support of 2015 mayoral candidate Megan Barry--absolved the Nashville Sounds club from any responsibility for cost overages.

And just like that, the mayor and the Metro Council encumbered the Metro budget for any obligation beyond the $65,000,000 of expense planned for project construction.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost for us, even those who so blindly hopped on the bandwagon without a second thought or a single misgiving. You see, the council stuck us with the bill.

The Mayor's Office admitted to the Tennessean that it will have to spend $5,000,000 more on the ballpark due to water lines, electric lines, and paving along its properties. Mind you, this is Metro government. They have all of the information on water lines, electric lines, and paving. They are people who are supposed to be able to see this sort of thing coming. You cannot convince me that they did not know. Either they kept themselves willfully ignorant or they considered anything over $65,000,000 as bad PR in the days leading up to the big council vote.

Ever since my family moved to Salemtown 10 years ago, we've known that the area has 100 year old water and sewer lines underground. Every time a development goes up here that knowledge is reiterated. Some developers have balked at the price of upgrading the antiquated infrastructure here. This is not some big unknown. If we knew that fact, if others knew that fact, does Metro Nashville (and more importantly Metro Planning, which informed the ballpark plan) have any excuse for not knowing that when it came time to proposing a budget?

Gilmore: refused to slow
the plan down to talk
things through
Of course, there are many who would have supported this plan sight unseen were the proposal $70,000,000 or $75,000,000 or $80,000,000 regardless of the damage to funding the delivery of the Metro services we actually rely on every day. The idea of community planning, of involving stakeholders in big capital projects in the process, is lost on these people. And I'm not sure that they understand the connection between increased expenses to pay for this luxury and the loss of income to sustain our basic services.

It is such foolishness, because that is exactly what Hizzoner's budget busters are going to cost us; delivery of services because the money is going to come out of other Metro departments; Metro Public Works, Metro Water, and Metro IT (Metro Water is already raided annually to pay off the Tennessee Titans' football stadium). Keep this mind: it will be bad form to criticize the failure of these taxed departments to deliver services in the future if you made no effort to slow down Erica Gilmore in 2013 when she brought this project to full approval less than three months even against the protests of her constituents that we need more time and community involvement.

Others of us were waving red flags about this plan and its unanswered questions as soon as the first community meeting ended. We warned that something like this could happen to put our services at risk. And, by golly, we were right. The Mayor's Office plans to raid other services that our tax dollars pay for. And here is not a thing we can do about it now. After all, Courthouse logic would say, "We've already committed so much money to this. We need to bite the bullet and see it through. Compared to $65 million, $5 million is chump change." And you know what? We, the citizens of Nashville, are the chumps. This was an open-ended confidence game from jump.

Playing Nashville like a dollar store guitar.
It is amazing to me that Rich Riebeling, the mayor's finance director, can claim with a straight face that he already watched the budget overages of the new convention center. So, he expected them in the ballpark plan. He said nothing about expecting the same kind of overages in the community meeting he at the Farmers' Market. And if he had the same realism regarding the ballpark, why did he fail to provide some cushion in his initial cost estimates? The only thing that I can figure is that he failed because he was just as willing to risk the future delivery of Metro services on First Tennessee Park as he was on Music City Center for the sake of wealthy developers.

The Mayor's Office rationalizes the overage by setting the economic growth ceiling even higher. The sky is the limit for these guys and no expense can be spared for Frank Ward, even though many of us understand that everything has limits. Unforgiving limits. Like those causing Metro Nashville Public Schools to teach some children in frigid portable buildings. See how it is? A minor league baseball owner lives high on the Music City hog because he is already rich while some of Nashville's kids shiver while trying to learn math or science.

Beyond the ballpark dreamers, will it truly be a boon for our North Nashville neighborhoods? We know it will be for Mr. Ward. One spellbound real estate journo relates the owner's plan for thousands of feet of restaurant and bar space to the "symbiotic relationships" retail space has will new ballparks around the country. The flip side of that symbiosis is that in other cities the restaurants and bars that already existed in surrounding neighborhoods are reduced to survival mode.

For all of these rationalizations that local businesses will prosper due to Metro Nashville dropping more bling on Mr. Ward's ballpark, residential and retail, one unwavering truth remains. Frank Ward will be competing with the businesses along Jefferson Street. He will try to pull customers into his complex to spend more in order to backload his government subsidized income. We are bankrolling his competitive advantage. It is that way with all professional team owners in this age. But don't take my word for it. Sports economist Victor Matheson makes the case:

Teams aren’t in the business of making sure to generate a lot of money for the local bar across the street .... They’re in the business of selling you the $11 beer ... once you’re inside the stadium.

In the end, Karl Dean and Rich Riebeling and Jerry Maynard and Erica Gilmore and Megan Barry and every other stadium supporter are hawking a bill of goods and a gallon of snake oil to justify spending tens of millions for what is nothing more than corporate welfare to keep a very wealthy real estate kingpin from pleading poverty and moving the team out of Nashville. As if we don't hear everyday how Nashville is such a hot commodity that people choose to stay without being bought and paid for. As long as we swallow the myth that rich big shots require our tax dollars we will simply look the other way as these budget busting overages continue to roll in.

We can choose to bury our heads in the sand under the pretense of supporting the local team and North Nashville, but how long can we afford to keep doing that?

 Play ball, Megan Barry?  Pay bills!

UPDATE: As of March 18, 2015, the expenses are skyrocketing $10,000,000 over the original budget projections. Karl Dean says that he will not raise taxes or float bonds to pay for it which means that the revenues will have to come from Metro services.

UPDATE: The Tennessean reports on July 17, 2017:

More than two years after the first game at the Nashville Sounds' First Tennessee Park, a new Metro audit says the final cost of the publicly-financed project ballooned to $91 million when adding the amount spent to make improvements to the surrounding area.

The same audit also blames an expedited, 13-month construction timeline as one reason the minor league baseball stadium overshot its budget for construction and land acquisition by around $10 million ....

The audit, which was finalized in April and presented by Metro Auditor Mark Swann to the six-member Metropolitan Nashville Audit Committee last week, was conducted after the stadium was built because the total cost significantly exceeded projections.

"It was basically 13 months from approval to opening day," Swann told The Tennessean. "When we were going through the billings, you could see where we were paying overtime for expedited deliveries."

You may remember that some of living around the ballpark site advocated a more deliberate, participatory, and slow approach to the gentrification project. Can't say we didn't warn you.