Legislation that would limit the use of Metro’s 117-acre property off Nolensville Pike to the Tennessee State Fair, a racetrack and other current functions is scheduled to go back before the Metro Council tonight, when it will likely be deferred for the second time.
Councilman Eric Crafton, the bill’s sponsor, told The City Paper he plans to defer the ordinance Tuesday for another month to give the council more time to develop a plan to save fairgrounds events like the Christmas Village and Nashville Lawn & Garden Show.
“These have been fixtures in Nashville for a long time,” Crafton said. “I don’t understand why the mayor is throwing out the whole fairgrounds because maybe the state fair didn’t make some money for a few years.”
Crafton previously deferred his bill in December to give citizens a chance to voice their opinions on the matter at a public hearing inside council chambers. Held earlier this month, participants ranged from preservationists who decried the end of fairgrounds operations to neighbors who called the racetrack’s noise a nuisance.
“I came away from the public hearing thinking that the council can come up with a plan to be able to keep some of the uses of the fairgrounds open,” Crafton said, adding that the event also pointed to some unanswered questions related to fair expenditures.
According to Crafton, the fair has dished out unusually high expenses for a range of things, including $85,000 for computer services and $33,000 for phones, making the fair’s financial situation look worse than it really is.
Crafton also said the fair “doesn’t take a dime from taxpayers’ money,” and yet it creates an economic impact of $60 million a year.
“The council just voted to spend $650 million for a $120 million-per-year economic impact,” said Crafton, alluding to the recently approved Music City Center. “So, if everything’s always about the money, then it makes no sense whatsoever to close down something that’s not costing you anything yet is bringing in a million and a half visitors a year and a $60 million economic impact.”
Mayor Karl Dean in the fall announced plans to cease holding the annual state fair, citing years of financial losses accrued by the event. He later recommended that the fair board allow vendors to continue other scheduled events — expositions, flea markets, etc. — through the end of 2010.
Dean has made no secret that he would like to see the fairgrounds property redeveloped, perhaps to accommodate some type of mixed-used project that could generate sizeable tax dollars. His administration is expected soon to establish a task force that will explore the future of the fairgrounds with residents in the area.
Crafton is concerned the demise of the fairgrounds could spell the loss of several forms of affordable entertainment.
“The problem I have with this is that it seems like the regular person never gets any consideration for the activities that they like to do and can afford,” Crafton said. “Not everybody can afford $140 to go to a Titans game.”
Other items to be considered tonight include:
• Council is expected to consider a bill on third reading that would allow drivers with remote starting devices to warm up their unoccupied vehicles on private property.
• Council is set to consider a bill on third reading that would consolidate Nashville’s public-education-government access television stations under one governing body.
• Council is expected to consider a resolution that could bring the wine-in-grocery store issue before Davidson County voters at the August election. The bill comes in response to a bill considered by state lawmakers that would let municipalities hold public referendums to decide whether to permit the sale of wine within grocery stores in their communities.