Council work session yields no consensus on fairgrounds site

Saturday, January 8, 2011 at 3:41pm

At least one Metro Council member would appreciate if Mayor Karl Dean’s long-term intentions for the Metro-owned fairgrounds were a little clearer.
In making his case to convert the 117-acre fairgrounds property to a corporate campus, Dean has cited figures supplied by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce that suggest the site could generate $2.5 billion in economic impact. He’s even gone so far as to remind Nashvillians about the infamous May Town Center debate to drive home the need and urgency to compete with suburban counties for corporate relocations.
But there’s been something noticeably missing: Dean hasn’t definitively said what company or companies could be in store for the property. There’s also no guarantee Dean’s vision would actually materialize.
“Before any demolition begins, can we have actually some indication — at least — that there’s a financial guarantee that success is coming?” Metro Councilman Mike Jameson said. “Because why tear it down if nothing is going to come?”
Jameson’s comment characterized the type of unscripted discussion that unfolded during the Saturday morning work session as roughly 25 council members convened to talk about the city’s hot-button issue of the day: the future of the much-disputed, much-debated fairgrounds.
The meeting, organized by Jameson, who represents part of downtown and East Nashville, was ballyhooed as a forum to politely and casually discuss the fairgrounds issue. Council members wore sweaters and jeans instead of suits or dresses. Jameson even threw on a baseball cap.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, moderated by former Councilman Jim Shulman, civility was certainly in the air — as was the obvious sense that council members still have plenty of questions about Dean’s plans and the property in general.
“I think we should get [council attorney] Jon Cooper or somebody to do one paragraph on what happens to the fairgrounds if we don’t take any action,” said Councilman Carter Todd, who represents the Forest Hills area. “I don’t think we really know.”
Council members divided into subgroups to discuss both the idea of keeping the fairgrounds property in tact as well as the possibility of demolishing its buildings and historic racetrack to make way for a new use. The arrangement offered a unique look at elected officials having a dinner-table type discussion in contrast to formal deliberation. Perspectives covered the spectrum.
“If you’re going to look at the fairgrounds for redevelopment, then I think you need to step back and you need to look at all the Metro properties for redevelopment,” Councilman Jim Gotto said. “Because apparently the thing that’s driving this is we don’t make money at the fairgrounds. Well, we’ve got a lot of golf courses not making money.”
Watching from the sidelines were key stakeholders including mayor’s office representatives, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, Board of Fair Commissioners chair James Weaver, several auto-racing drivers, fairgrounds neighbors and Darden Copeland, who heads the group Save My Fairgrounds.
“Obviously, it’s an important issue,” Riebeling said. “It’s good that a lot of council members showed up. Obviously, there’s a lot of different thoughts on it. I think the key is, everything that’s out there has been discussed, and now it’s time to make some decisions and move forward.”
“Our thoughts are still clear,” said Riebeling, speaking on behalf of Dean’s administration. “It’s really about trying to rebuild this neighborhood. That’s our focus.”
The meeting took place 10 days before the council is set to consider on the second of three votes a bill that would move forward with the demolition of the fairgrounds’ racetrack, but keep the expo center and Tennessee State Fair at the site for at least one more year. A new park is already slated for part of the property. Metro Council Budget and Finance Committee chair Megan Barry introduced the bill, which enjoys the support of eight other co-sponsors.
Several council members on Saturday suggested the legislation be deferred to allow for more debate. Approached by The City Paper, Barry deflected questions on her plans for the bill to Councilwoman Sandra Moore, who represents the surrounding fairgrounds neighborhood and has co-signed the legislation. Moore said she would consider deferring the bill.
“I’m taking everything into consideration,” Moore said.
After discussing the fairgrounds within small groups, a council representative from each subset revealed ideas to the group as whole. For the most part, council members just tossed around ideas instead of lobbying for a particular course of action. There was no consensus.
Some said it’s important the state play an integral role in producing future state fairs. Many council members said the fairgrounds should take on a green component. Others talked about keeping the racetrack, but installing sound buffers to lessen the noise of high-speed vehicles heard by neighbors. Councilman Jamie Hollin, who personally thanked Riebeling for his attendance, pointed out the fairgrounds property currently lacks proper zoning to be privatized and converted into corporate office space.
Weaver, whose term on the fair board expires in April, called the meeting “very insightful.” Talking to reporters, he stressed the fact that the expo center is set to remain at the fairgrounds until a new location is found regardless of the outcome of Barry’s bill.
“That discussion, that bill, is mostly about the racetrack,” Weaver said. “It’s not about the flea market. It’s not about the expo center. We will have a flea market at that site until there is a replacement venue.
“The racetrack, I think tends to be sort of the tail wagging the dog,” he added. “It’s an issue, obviously, and there’s a lot of passion around it. But it’s not the core central issue.” 

7 Comments on this post:

By: racer84 on 1/8/11 at 5:21

Our thoughts are still clear,” said Riebeling, speaking on behalf of Dean’s administration. “It’s really about trying to rebuild this neighborhood. That’s our focus

I'm sorry, This quote is confusing considering the Mayor's position below.

I would imagine if one looked around and did some research you would find the Mayor's office has flip flopped many times about what this issue is all about.

Mayor Dean Responds to Fairgrounds Proposal Opposition
Posted: Sep 28, 2010 5:58 PM CDT
Video Gallery

Mayor Dean Responds to Fairgrounds Proposal Opposition

by Mark Bellinger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nashville Mayor Karl Dean responded Tuesday to efforts to block his attempt to close the fairgrounds at the end of the year. Mayor Dean said taxpayers are at risk, because the Tennessee State Fair has lost money for ten straight years.

During an interview with Dean about his first three years in office, he talked about accomplishments, which include improvements in education, as well as the fairgrounds.

Dean said closing the fairgrounds is the right thing to do and in the best interest of Metro taxpayers.

"The fair can go somewhere else. It's clear it doesn't work there, and all the reports say the area is too small. It's too hilly and it loses money. It doesn't draw enough people and it's been that way for ten years," said Mayor Dean.

A city report showed the state fair losing money every year since 2002. In some cases, it has lost more than one million dollars in a year. Dean said a fairgrounds reserve fund is eroding and soon taxpayers could be footing the bill.

"They have reserve funds but at some point they're going to run out and they run out the only way to fund the fair will be to dig into the operating money of the Metro government," said Mayor Dean.

By: vendor78 on 1/8/11 at 5:38

Obviously the Mayor's office is rattled and off-message:

“Our thoughts are still clear,” said Riebeling, speaking on behalf of Dean’s administration. “It’s really about trying to rebuild this neighborhood. That’s our focus.”

Are your thoughts clear, Rich? Because your message isn't.

I thought it was economic development? Or getting out of the Fair business? Maybe restoring a creek? Or was it building a park? (which you've told us can co-exist with a track). Now it's about rebuilding neighborhoods, huh? Why not develop a master plan for the entire community that enhances the Fairgrounds. Spend the $10 million you nearly wasted on Hickory Hollow and really make that neighborhood nice. Flea market vendors are all for that, as long as you keep our expo center and racetrack.

And PS. Why is this not on Channel 3? Will it be later? We were told not to attend since the Council did not want us there and it would be on Channel 3 instead. How many neighbors were there? Is this Megan Barry's way of making it up to the 4 SNAP neighbors for the "surprise" public hearing? We know she emailed SNAP to apologize after the November meeting. Megan Barry needs to go. If no one will run against Dean, we should at least remove his top minions, starting with Barry.

By: hottrodd on 1/8/11 at 6:04

voice of nashvie that karl dean refuses to hear

sounds like more dirty politiocs atwork again

By: MAmom on 1/9/11 at 11:49

Closing the fairgrounds down (i.e.: "redevelopment") met with more resistance than Dean and Riebeling expected. So now they are breaking it into pieces - starting with the racetrack. Next to go will be the expo and flea market.
FROM THE ARTICLE: "Throughout the two-hour meeting, ... was the obvious sense that council members still have plenty of questions about Dean’s plans and the property in general."

Before depriving the people of Nashville and Middle Tennessee of the use of the Fairgrounds property - the Council has a responsibility to get answers to the OUTSTANDING questions before going forwards with any part of Dean's "fairgrounds redevelopment" plan.

FROM THE ARTICLE: "Dean has cited figures supplied by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce that suggest the site could generate $2.5 billion in economic impact... But there’s been something NOTICEABLY MISSING: Dean hasn’t definitively said what company or companies could be in store for the property. THERE'S ALSO NO GUARANTEE DEAN'S VISION WOULD ACTUALLY MATERIALIZE."

As Dean has been LESS THAN HONEST many times during the Fairgrounds discussion... there is little reason to trust or believe what he says about economic impact.

Likely effect of Fairgrounds "redevelopment" under several different scenarios:
(1) If a business merely relocates from one Nashville location to another - there will be no or few net jobs gained. And except for short-term construction work (probably by out-of-town construction companies) - no or little increase in jobs to Nashvillians.
(2) If an established Corporation is courted and moves to Nashville from another locale, the best jobs - the ones that pay decently - will go to their existing employees who will move here. Not to locals.
(3) An out-of-town company moving there will almost certainly get great tax incentives for moving to the property - so no great property tax base gain. Especially so since the Dean administration wants to determine what companies receive tax incentives in return for creating jobs (see the NCP 12/20/10 article entitled "Mayor's bill proposing changes to economic incentive grants challenged; vote to be deferred.")
(4) A local company re-locating will almost certainly get great tax incentives for moving to the property also - and no longer pay taxes on their current location. If that happened - it would be a net property tax loss.
(5) The Flea Market & expo vendors who make a living or supplement their income by working at the Fairgrounds will be displaced. Above JWever said: "We will have a flea market at that site until there is a replacement venue." But in the near past (last month) K Dean said openly he wanted the city to get out of the "flea market business".

An article in the 12/21/2010 Nashville Chatter Class entitled "SKEPTICISM ARISES OVER CHAMBER'S VIEW OF FAIRGROUNDS. The article says: "questions are arising within the Nashville real estate community over the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s take on what could be done in redeveloping the fairgrounds... In fact, there’s DOWNRIGHT SKEPTICISM that 1 million square feet of mixed-use space could be developed on the site to attract or create 6,500 jobs, or that the site is a good location for Class-A office space. Generally, the view is that the possibility of 1 million square feet is outlandish, ...'WHEN PIGS FLY, THIS DEVELOPMENT WILL CREATE 6,500 NEW JOBS IN DAVIDSON COUNTY,' one real estate industry insider said. 'The density of occupancy/development will be closer to 700,000 square feet and 3,000 jobs WITH NO GUARANTEE ANY OF THE JOBS ARE NEW TO DAVIDSON COUNTY. THE DEVELOPMENT, NO MATTER THE SIZE, LIKELY WOULD DRAW TENANTS FROM OTHER PARTS OF TOWN LIKE OTHER NEW DEVELOPMENTS HAVE DONE AND WILL ALWAYS DO.' "

The fairgrounds property are a commons area for the people of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. It belongs to the people of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. It is part of what makes Nashville special.

The fairgrounds "redevelopment" (i.e.: destroy/build) plan deserves more due diligence. There are too many outstanding questions about Fairgrounds "redevelopment".

Please contact your Council representative and tell them to slow down and gets the facts before destroying any part of the Fairgrounds.

Many thousands have signed petitions to save the Fairgrounds. Dean and some on the Council have ignored these.

If you signed the petition, please consider attending the January 18 Council meeting and let them know the "fairgrounds redevelopment" plan is ill advised - at least until outstanding questions are answered satisfactorily.


MAKE DEAN A 1-TERM MAYOR - because he doesn't care what Nashvillians think about this or a lot of other issues either.

By: racer84 on 1/9/11 at 1:57

MaMom - I wish you would go visit the Tennessean in person and ask to speak to Gail Kerr face to face and let her know how much you appreciate her saying your families income shouldn't stand in the way of progress !

By: pswindle on 1/10/11 at 11:14

Simple answer: Clean up and repair the Fairgrounds and it will being a whole new group of people there. We need it and it could be a major money venue. I remember in the summer when big concerts were held at the Fairgrounds and they were money making events. There are better ways to go than to let Dean do is thing and take itt away from us. We should have fought harder for Opryland.

By: caluttc on 1/10/11 at 12:50

All the hesitation and phony public hearings are merely smoke and mirrors. Before his next term he will eliminate the exisiting fairgrounds. Dean has so many things on his platter he doesn't mind letting this one ride a while. He and his council are comitted to the hospitality industry. The apprx. 8 squareblock downtown area[ visable as the Downtown Partnership} is driving the future of Nashville. Dean and his followers will { in the future} drive through Nashville with their peers from other cities and attend their professional conventions in other cities and pound their chest claiming----I turned this country music city into a COSMOPOLITIAN city that no longer embarrasses we elite.
We current complacent apathetic surberbanites will then awaken in our retired days and think oh what have we left to our little Bubba and Suzie. The Nashville they grew up in and we worked and lived in was such a livable city. Not only have we left them an unsurmontable natoinal debt, the Nashville lifestyle we enjoyed is no longer.