Mayor Karl Dean on Monday reiterated he’s taking a “time out” to continue discussions on the future of Metro’s expo center and flea market, but gave every signal he intends to revisit plans to redevelop the 117-acre fairgrounds eventually — when is still unclear.
Addressing the Rotary Club of Nashville at the Wildhorse Saloon, Dean didn’t depart from the case he’s been making for months, citing the need to expand the city’s tax base by accommodating corporations exploring relocation or expansion opportunities. The fairgrounds, positioned near downtown and close to Interstate 65 and major commercial corridors, could be ideal for a corporate campus, Dean has said.
“We cannot sit by idly with the status quo, where businesses select to move or locate outside of Davidson County, thereby not increasing our tax base,” Dean said. “We have to be serious about our tax base. We have to be serious about economic development.”
Continuing a new tendency, Dean again brought up the fierce debate from 18 months ago over the proposed $4 billion May Town Center, the controversial mega-development planned for the rural Bells Bend community, which ultimately stalled in the Metro Planning Commission.
“You had proponents saying that we needed to develop this space to compete with Cool Springs to grow our tax base,” Dean said. “You had opponents saying, ‘Yes, we need economic development, but not in a location that takes away green space, lacks necessary infrastructure and with neighbors that don’t want it.’
“To me, the fairgrounds addresses all of those concerns,” he said. “Obviously, not everyone agrees. But, if not the fairgrounds, where?”
During a question-and-answer session with Rotarians, Dean cited pending legislation co-sponsored by nine council members that would keep the expo center and Tennessee State Fair at Nolensville Pike for another year, but would demolish the racetrack to make way for a 40-acre park.
Recently, Dean pulled back from plans to relocate the fairground's expo center to Antioch's Hickory Hollow Mall. Such a move would have allowed for fairground's redevelopment.
Asked by a reporter when the “time out” may be over, Dean said, “I have no time frame.”
Dean’s 30-minute speech Monday outlined many of the themes likely to be stressed over the upcoming months as he campaigns for re-election in August 2011. Introducing Dean to Rotarians, Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development Director Alexia Poe referenced the mayor’s leadership during May’s flood and during the ongoing economic downtown.
Given those two events, Dean called the past 12 months “a difficult year,” but one during which “our city has come through stronger than ever.”
Dean framed mayoral-led initiatives over the past year into the three categories he’s trumpeted since his days as a candidate in 2007: economic development, public safety and public education. It appears “hitting those three pitches” will once again become the catchphrase in the months ahead.
On the economic development front, Dean spent most of his time talking about the fairgrounds. He also mentioned his decision not to raise property taxes during a recession before listing off several companies Dean said the city, “using the tools that we have,” helped lure to Davidson County.
Turning to education, Dean highlighted Nashville State Community College, which is set to receive from the Tennessee Board of Regents $7 million, funds it would use to build a satellite campus in Antioch. Dean said Metro has committed $1 million in matching funds for the college’s expansion, which the council is set to weigh in on next week.
“A Nashville State campus in Antioch, along with the parks and library projects we’ve proposed for Hickory Hollow Mall, will be a huge shot in the arm to that part of Davidson County,” Dean said, pointing out that Antioch is the fasted growing part of Nashville.
Wrapping up the speech, Dean said he has maintained his commitment to public safety. He said while other cities across the country have cut police and fire programs, “We’ve done just the opposite.”
Dean said crime in Nashville is down for the sixth consecutive year. He said the homicide rate in Nashville has dropped significantly, from 75 homicides through December last year compared to 57 today.