ANALYSIS: Is the mayor trying to sink the Riverfront Park plan?

Monday, March 9, 2009 at 12:00am

Mike Jameson’s political hill on which to die is a 17-acre plat of public land on the east bank of the Cumberland River.

That’s where, until earlier this year, Jameson wholeheartedly believed an Adventure Water Park and pilot urban forest project were going to soon be installed as part of riverfront redevelopment more than 20 years in the making.

But through a series of coincidental events that followed Jameson sticking his nose where apparently others believed it didn’t belong, the popular East Nashville Metro Councilman got wind of other plans for developing the riverfront.

Whose ‘other’ plans? None other than Mayor Karl Dean — a fact Jameson laid out in dramatic fashion to an overflow crowd at the East Park Community Center on Saturday morning. The diverse crowd was none too pleased — with Dean, not Jameson.

Every East Nashville neighborhood association was represented at the meeting, which had state Rep. Mike Stewart, school board representative Gracie Porter and a handful of Metro Council members in attendance.

Jameson began his presentation with a warning: “I don’t think you’re ever going to get your Adventure Park” — a claim that drew raucous applause. “This was all about to be re-prioritized without them asking you what you wanted.”

Left out of the loop

What ended Saturday with Jameson calling out the Dean administration for revising the priority list for redeveloping the riverfront began by happenstance on Jan. 22. That’s when the councilman popped his head into a Downtown Partnership open house. According to Jameson, Dean told the crowd that in a couple of weeks he would make an announcement about the downtown riverfront.

“And that makes me nervous, because when people say ‘the downtown riverfront,’ they always mean [the west bank side of the river],” Jameson said.

On the basis of that comment, Jameson began asking around to ascertain what the announcement would be. Eventually he found himself at an “off-campus” meeting inside a coffee shop with MDHA representatives and was handed a map of the riverfront with a list of projects identified through a lengthy and detailed public process that included paying Massachusetts consulting firm Hargreaves and Associates $450,000.

The projects themselves had not been altered, but they had been re-prioritized and the Adventure Park found itself at Phase III of the plans instead of first in line as had been suggested by Hargreaves and requested by the public.

Jameson was angry and he asked MDHA to hold a public meeting to present the new plans to his constituents, which it did.

Playing the role of administration-appointed antagonist to Jameson at Saturday’s meeting was Ed Owens, who was hired by Dean last year to be the director of riverfront development for MDHA.

Owens explained to the crowd that the mayor had asked him to revisit the riverfront projects. “When the mayor asks you to do something, you do it,” he said.

But Owens presented an alternative plan that would see landscaping and green space come to the east and west banks of the river before the Adventure Park ever got started. This in spite of the fact that schematics for the park were complete and the funds already approved thanks to a 2007 Council vote appropriating $8 million.

Owens said power lines were going to be removed and buried underground on the west bank of the river, which made improvements there a logical next step. He also said the economy played a role in shifting the priority list, though he later conceded that both plans would effectively cost the same.

Jameson let Owens off the hook by telling the crowd, “I don’t think he’s being allowed to do what he wants to do. I think he’s following somebody else’s orders.”

Rift with mayor’s office not new

Jameson has called out Dean’s administration before. Last year during a Council budget meeting, Jameson grilled Planning Department Director Rick Bernhardt about the future employment of a neighborhood-friendly staffer in front of shocked Council members.

Jameson set up a scenario where Planning Manager David Kleinfelter was going to lose his job because he held a developer’s feet to the fire on a measly sidewalk requirement for an apartment in Antioch. The developer went to the mayor’s office — specifically Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote — and, according to Jameson, Bernhardt was told Kleinfelter had to go.

It’s a claim denied by everyone outside of Jameson, however. Eventually Kleinfelter left Planning, but not before conceding that Jameson’s intervention bought him time to consider other opportunities.

Jameson’s action put him in Dean’s doghouse, where he has stayed ever since.

Afraid he might have become too toxic to get his Council goals accomplished, Jameson went the route of having less controversial members co-sponsor legislation, sometimes deciding to not even sign bills of great personal value. And, Jameson continued trying to keep a low profile until he got wind of the change in riverfront plans.

Dean is currently in Argentina as part of Nashville’s sister cities program, but his office released the following statement when asked to respond to Jameson’s claims.

“The riverfront redevelopment plan was completed over two years ago,” Dean’s spokeswoman Janel Lacy said. “Ed is now going through a public process of determining if what was set out two years ago still fits the needs of our community today. That was the purpose of the community meeting at East Park.”

Color Jameson unconvinced. He vaguely suggested that the public comment process, which MDHA said it would begin on its Web site this week, would not be conducted honestly. He instead, chose a ‘show of hands’ vote on Saturday — the original plan with the Adventure Park going first or the revised plan with green space and buried power lines. Everyone in the room raised their arms in favor of the Adventure Park.

Still, the guy whose vote mattered the most was in Argentina. Much of East Nashville is eagerly awaiting his return.

Read more coverage from the Saturday meeting.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 7:00

WTF does Dean have to do in Argentina? Crap like that should end when we're being told there's no money for anything- yet Dean can fly off to Argentina??? Is the wife's coal mine money paying for that or are we?

By: Jane on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I sit on the Tourism and Convention Commission and my comments are based on facts from my experience on the commission, but I am not speaking on behalf of the commission. Tourism is lagging due to the the economy. Hotels are suffering, as are all business that benefit from tourists coming to our city. One of those businesses is Metro Nashville. The riverfront development original implementation plan, which includes the adventure park in phase one, will give tourists another reason to come to Nashville to spend their entertainment and vacation dollars. This is only one of many reasons I support the city sticking with the original implementation plan.Jane Andrews

By: carleydale on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Even Vegas is a ghost town right now, and they have EVERYTHING there you could ever want. Maybe Dean should tank the convention center and go for the water park, since Opryland will not be in competition with it on any level.

By: Kosh III on 12/31/69 at 7:00
By: NewYorker1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

There's still people out there that can still afford to take vacations. I just booked a vacation last week with my travel agent that cost me eight thousand dollars for my upcoming birthday. The city should change it's marketing strategy and go after people who are still doing ok.

By: NOISEEMIKE on 12/31/69 at 7:00

What is it that Dean does not understand about WE THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN? As long as everything is in line,then we need to get started, NOW!

By: carleydale on 12/31/69 at 7:00

NewYork, I'm happy for ya, but the truth is that most of us prefer to "keep our money close to our vest" right now. Just because you're doing fine right now, well....LOL..that can change in an instant. Ask all the new members of the recently Unemployed Americans Club.

By: Alphadog7 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

This plan is a great opportunity to spawn economic development. Nashville has acres and acres of prime riverfront that is zoned industrial. It seems to me if we want to stimulate the local economy, you're got to consider making the East Bank from the LP Field to Shelby Park walk/bikeable along the waterfront. This would be a minimal investment of tax dollars compared to some of the other plans, and would yield a high return as we watch that area spring to life as a result.I am not suggesting that we replace the current plan, but that area should be made a priority. Downtown is already saturated, we need to spread it out now.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

carleydale, I understand sweetness. At the same time, we need to encourage people who are still "able" to continue spending (within their means of course) so that some people can keep their jobs. As much as I hate the current financial crisis, I still plan to live as normal. I figured that's my way of helping some people keep their jobs. I'll be the first to say that I've lost a lot of money recently, but I'm not retiring for at least another thirty years. I still have a substantial cash emergency fund and zero debt. I understand some people are hurting, but some people are still doing ok and should spend.

By: pandabear on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Jameson being in Dean's dog house says a lotof good things about Jameson.Time after time I've watched Dean lie and manipulate to get his way. He doesn't carewhat the people of Nashville wants. He doescare about the constuction, restaurant andtourist industry, and I guess that's whobacked him when running for mayor.I'm sick of his underhanded ways. His love of a convention center is greater than basics, like funding General Hospital.Personally, I like "open space" and wouldprefer to see it remain that way, but no one's asking what I want...especially not Karl Dean.

By: pandabear on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Jane:I like that plan. I don't like the convention center moving forward while General remains underfunded. We need a little balance in our thinking.

By: iamhistory2000 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I was at the meeting on Saturday. Although I live on the East side of the Cumberland, I really don't have a dog in this fight. I haven't been involved in the process, like so many have been (many I met for the first time this past Saturday)...BUT It is disturbing to me that the Mayor was planning these changes without community input and it seems pretty shady that it was handled the way it was handled. THAT is what I have a problem with in regard to this.At this point it would seem best for Dean to leave the plan in the original order, swallow his medicine and move on. I know if it does change he will have lost at least one vote in the next election. Keep everything where we can see it Mr. Dean.If you would like to contact the Mayor's office I'm including that information here.Feel free to voice your opinion DIRECTLY to the man himself.Mayor's OfficeMayor Karl Dean100 Metro CourthouseNashville, TN 37201Phone (615) 862-6000FAX (615) 862-6040mayor@nashville.gov

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Listen people, as I have stated before Downtown business interests are at war with your neighborhoods. The last three administrations (including the "neighborhood mayor" and the "sidewalks mayor") concercend themselves only downtown. This battle has already been fought and East Nashville last lost. Stuff gets done in Metro by getting the neighborhoods and their elected officials on board with a big sweeping plan. Then when the real spending starts it is focused on the small, lightly populated downtown core. You are to blame by continually electing representatives who will standup for the fallacy of downtown redevelopment and tourism instead of for your streets, shops, and homes. Ask yourself this: does, why does it take a long time to build a public school or library in Antioch, Bellevue, etc yet they spring up palace versions of these types of projects in downtown almost overnight? Is it because there are tens of thousands of people living in downtown who can use these facilities? No. They are there because someone decided we needed to look good for the tourists or the chamber of commerce. If I read "we should look more like Portland" one more time I believe I will scream. We should endeavor to look more like a successful Nashville then an expensive, unrealistic Portland.Will the lights suddenly come on for the many neighborhood activists? Will they now see the urban black hole that is downtown? Will someone suddenly speak up for the neighborhoods where people actually live and work?

By: house_of_pain on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Whatever they do with the property, it better involve plenty of on-site parking.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Global warming and Nashville's temperate climate aside, would a seasonal venture such as a water park really bring in that much revenue?

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 7:00

It would be a better place for the bums to loiter around and urinate.Maybe that's the answer, make it a bum themed amusement park, that way people won't know who's a real bum and who's just a park employee.

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

gdiafante,Thanks for having a brain!Pandabear,The funds being collected for the MCC are not available for other projects by law. Not Deans' law, not my law, not your law, but the State and City law put in place for this very purpose.JeffF,More anti-downtown ranting? How shocking....Palace versions of what? A main library, how shocking....

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 7:00

To sum up, instead of creating a neighborhood amenity for the folks in East Nashville the money will be used to bury electric lines on the downtown side of the river so those folks will not have to look at them (the Chamber of Commerce viewshed).Come on Nashville there are hundreds of thousands of us NOT living and working in downtown. Send a little BACK our way. We want all of Nashville to succeed and do not think killing our neighborhoods for the benefit of downtown royalty is the best way to do it.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 7:00

State law can be changed by the state. All someone has to do is ask. The state reps restricted the revenue to tourism purposes because they were asked to do so, not because it made sense or fulfilled some strong societal norm. Producer where have you been? Digging around for some way to avoid General Obligation debt on your downtown crystal cathedral dedicated to the unseen God of tourism and his holy ghost of the economic benefit multiplier?

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The East Bank of the Cumberland is somehow a neighborhood? I am all for the city moving the metal scrapyard and brightening up the East Bank but does it really have alot of effect on 5 points? As far as your other comments JeffF. time will tell my friend...