Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Nine months after he held the first one, Mayor Karl Dean announces the second community meeting on the new ballpark

Last October when the Mayor's Office hosted the only community meeting held in the Sulphur Dell area that included members of the ballpark design team and planners discussing the project publicly, they scheduled it at 2:00 on a week day when many neighbors around the area were at work. Metro Planners acknowledged that the meeting time was "odd" given that it was supposed to involve the community. On at least two occasions planners promised to hold more follow-up community meetings as the process went on.

Nine months have passed since the first meeting at Farmers' Market and just today the Mayor's Office has announced the scheduling of the second community meeting on Tuesday, July 8 at 5:00p. That time is more realistic for working families who may want to attend, but they have scheduled the meeting in an inconvenient place for those of us who live closest to Sulphur Dell. They are holding the meeting in the Howard Office Building south of Downtown. Between the "odd" scheduling of the first meeting and the unfortunate placement of the second meeting, it is almost like the powers over this project simply do not prefer to make it easy for the communities most affected by a new ballpark to attend.

The sun rises in the east: early morning games?
The announcement says that the "First Tennessee Park" project team and the Nashville Sounds will present the construction schedule and that those attending will be able to write comments and questions down on slips of paper and hand them in at the end of the meeting. So, in the same tone as the first meeting, organizers are not going to let this event become hearing-like. It will all be tightly controlled with no guarantees that all questions will be answered. At this point feedback is moot. The community lost the chance to influence the project when council supporters rammed the bill through second reading.

We will see how much Sounds executives are involved in this meeting. They were conspicuously absent from the first community meeting. Then in November, when CM Erica Gilmore relented to CM Charlie Tygard and finally organized her own neighborhoods' meeting on the project during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the Sounds were no where to be found. Sounds owner and real estate mogul, Frank Ward, was reported to have influenced the compressed timeline for approval of the ballpark plan. That timeline of weeks was controversial with many because it blocked opportunities for communities to have input in the planning process. When asked about the check on public feedback, Mr. Ward claimed that he "stays out of politics".

I don't know whether the Sounds owner simply looks down on popular feedback or does not want to be out among the unwashed masses, but he has been involved in politics both in Nashville (encouraging supporters to attend and speak at the ballpark public hearing) and in New York City (where he made at least one campaign donation). Hence, I don't buy the claim that he wants to stay out of politics. And I do not appreciate equating a community planning process with politics that one would wish to avoid.

But I will be interested to see if he attends the July 8 community meeting and whether he fields questions himself from the community. We know he attended a cork-popping reception celebrating the ballpark with a bank president and our Mayor. I do not believe that this gala was open to the community though.

There remain so many questions that the ballpark project team have yet to answer even as planners have promised more follow-up to address the questions. I don't have high expectations that even after nine months we will have clear answers or the concerns of last October will be addressed.

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