Fairgrounds speedway tussle shifts gears to master plan

Sunday, February 6, 2011 at 10:05pm
Jude Ferrara/SouthComm 

A few hundred racing enthusiasts clad in red T-shirts lifted themselves from their seats the moment the Metro Council voted last Tuesday to spare the Fairgrounds Speedway from demolition and walked out the door.

They’d just witnessed an impressive victory over the mayor’s office and council members who wanted to close the Fairgrounds Speedway in favor of a sketched-out redevelopment plan, and they had no further reason to watch council members press sausage. 

The council’s vote on third reading last week was the final approval to spare the much-disputed racetrack from bulldozers. It also broadsided Mayor Karl Dean’s plan to redevelop the 117-acre fairgrounds. The bill, which awaits Dean’s signature, also keeps the state fair at the site off Nolensville Pike through 2012, and it retains the property’s expo center and flea market for at least one more year. 

The bill calls for a new “master plan” to determine the future of the fairgrounds. With that, the battle for the long-term survival of the racetrack now depends on this plan, which the council would have to approve through an ordinance. 

On the surface, the odds seem to be against the city’s racing community. 

The five-member Board of Fair Commissioners, which has repeatedly said racing long-term at the fairgrounds isn’t the “highest and best use” of the property, will oversee the master plan development. The fair board is to work with the Metro Planning Department and Metro Parks & Recreation, both of which have a record of soliciting public input to draft community plans. The parks department could help incorporate existing plans for an already-approved 40-acre park slated for the site’s floodplain. 

Assuming the fair board hires a third-party consultant to manage the creation of the master plan, which appears likely, this isn’t something entirely new. Similar studies have gauged the viability and potential of the fairgrounds, and none of them advocate racing. 

In 2008, Minnesota-based Markin Consulting, hired by the fair board, found the site “inadequate” for a “true state fair.” Though it didn’t overtly recommend that racing cease, the consultants who studied the fairgrounds expressed “reservations about the long-term market and financial viability” of weekly auto racing. Two years later, the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute — which had an obvious pro-development slant — found the fairgrounds “underused and incompatible” with the surrounding neighborhood. Its report said the racetrack has “significantly affected development in that area.” Most recently, the Nashville Civic Design Center, charged by Dean’s Fairgrounds Task Force to review the site, failed to truly consider the racetrack as an option, presupposing its days were numbered. 

Racetrack proponents say the process for the new master plan will be different. It won’t predetermine the facility’s demise, they say.  

But if those developing a new master plan take cues from these reports, this whole ordeal might merely delay the next big bout: when some 3,000 fairgrounds preservationists show up at the council chambers several months from now and demand that their elected officials vote against it. 

Fair board gets discretion 

For now, there are just as many questions about how the master plan will come to be as the future of the fairgrounds itself. There is no timeline. There is no requirement that public hearings be held. In fact, there are very few mandates at all. 

Master-plan stipulations are geared toward areas the report must address: the construction of the park, the restoration of nearby Browns Creek, the future of existing facilities including the racetrack, and the possible addition of mixed-used development and necessary zoning changes. The master plan is also supposed to consider the existing reports on the fairgrounds. 

“As long as the fair board is following the expressed directives regarding what the master plan is to include and which departments are to be involved in preparing it, then the rest of it is really at their discretion,” council attorney Jon Cooper said. 

Fair board chair James Weaver, who plans to conclude his five-year tenure when his term expires in April, said the board would discuss the master plan at its March meeting. Though he’s still awaiting word from Metro legal counsel on the board’s master-plan responsibilities, he said the board would hire a consultant to help. 

“It won’t be something that the board will do,” Weaver said. “We’re a volunteer board, obviously. Our staff out there at the fairgrounds is pretty well engaged running the fairgrounds. We don’t have anybody that’s a master planner. 

“It will take as long as it takes,” he said of a timeline. Asked about the possibility that racing could be recommended, he said he didn’t want to “prejudge” the report. 

Weaver, who pointed out that this will be the fourth study on the fairgrounds site in recent years, said the board, in combination with a consultant, needs to “decide right up front” whether the point is to “find a consensus or find the right the answer.” 

“Are we asking them to try to find a consensus?” he said. “I don’t think we are. I think we’re asking them, ‘What’s the right answer, given all these various factors, all the various viewpoints, and all of the various biases that people bring into this?’ The economic developers want land to develop. The racers want a racetrack. The flea market people want a place to have a flea market. People who want a state fair want flat dirt. Everybody comes to this with a different set of biases.” 

Darden Copeland, who heads the group Save My Fairgrounds, is going to remain in his role as the paid leader of the opposition to Dean’s fairgrounds plans in the month ahead. Some credit Copeland with turning the resistance into a finely tuned machine. 

“I think the council has heard us loud and clear,” Copeland said. “We’ve got an army of people that are ready to take part in the master-planning process, whatever that may be.”

Copeland said public hearings and community meetings should be part of the process. He said the city shouldn’t rely on “old data,” referring to previous studies. 

“As long as we’re not going into it looking for the ‘highest and best use,’ then I think we’ll absolutely get a fair shake at this,” he said. “Highest and best use is defined by the [Urban Land Institute] or the chamber of commerce as how much money can we squeeze out of this property.” 

Some council members say the body will be paying more attention to this than previous studies. 

“It’s going to work entirely differently from how it has in the past because the council is clearly watching,” Councilman Jamie Hollin said, alluding to previous studies. “If they’re seeking direction of the council — and the council gave it to them — then all parties and all groups should be at the table in an open and deliberative process.” 

Duane Dominy, one of the council’s most outspoken voices for the preservation of the fairgrounds and racetrack, said he intends to be involved in the planning process. He echoed Hollin’s call for “all voices” to be part of it. 

Dominy scoffed at last year’s community meetings held by the civic design center, which had presupposed the fairgrounds would be razed. Those meetings were often packed with preservationists who weren’t really given the chance to make their case for the facility to remain. Ultimately, more than $30,000 in taxpayer dollars paid for a study that doesn’t seem to have had any effect. 

“If the recommendations come back, and they are based strongly on [eliminating existing fairgrounds uses], it will become an issue on the council floor,” Dominy said.  

23 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 2/7/11 at 9:16

Professional Racers, be there with plan in hand. You carry more weight than Dean and Weaver who owns Hickory Hollow. The more you hear about the deal that almost went down, the more dirty tricks may come to light.

By: racer84 on 2/7/11 at 11:31


Getting Started
Following are a few of the questions that should be
asked early in the process:
 What are the reasons that a corridor
redevelopment initiative is being considered?
Create a problem statement.

The ULI Rose Center wishes to thank Karl
Dean, Metropolitan Nashville–Davidson
County mayor; Planning Department
Executive Director Rick Bernhardt;
Mathews Company President Bert Mathews;
and Alexia Poe, director of the Mayor’s Office
of Economic and Community Development, for
accepting the invitation to be Rose Center Fellows
and for hosting this advisory services panel.
Special thanks go to Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote;
Ann Hammond, Jennifer Carlat, Craig Owensby,
Cynthia Wood, and Hilary Kahnle of the Planning
Department; and ULI Nashville District Council
Coordinator Rose Faeges-Easton for their time and
assistance during the panel’s visit.

How will the city pay ?

The panel envisions the need to use or create new
tools to implement this vision. These may include
 Using the Transportation Improvement Program
(TIP) of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning
Organization (MPO) and Metro’s capital improvement
program for proposed improvements to both
 Creating special corridor tax increment financing
(TIF) legislation in Tennessee;
 Using investment tax credits; and
 Creating a neighborhood commercial area business
improvement district (BID) or other special

Who are we doing this for ?
The Nashville region has a young population and is
attracting more so-called millennials (the tech-savvy
generation born between 1982 and 2001

 Metro should offer “carrots” (incentives such as
loans or grants) as well as regulations to achieve
desired outcomes. (Give away more tax dollars)

Read the report very closely. You will notice that numerous businesses in the Fairgrounds area,as well as numerous homes are targeted for “acquisition”
"Metro will need to focus on the potential issues of
undesired displacement of residents and businesses
as an unintended consequence of new incentives and

The initial steps for land assembly include the following:
 Conduct an inventory of underused and vacant
land in the study area (may perform concurrently
with industrial inventory).
 Determine which properties to target for acquisition
given their ability to promote corridor development
 Contact property owners to determine property
disposition opportunity.
 Create short- and intermediate-term strategies for
targeted acquisition.
 Create institutional capacity to implement the
acquisition strategy.
 Evaluate acquisition opportunities on an ongoing
The panel recommends the following timetable:
 Perform inventory (months 1–6).
 Identify short- and intermediate-term property
acquisition opportunities (months 5–8).
 Create a strategy and implement a program for
targeted property acquisition (months 9–12).

I would like to see a study conducted to calculate exactly how many millions of Taxpayer dollars have been wasted the last 4 years on Dean's "studies" . All of these studies on how to recreate Nashville to look like Portland, Washington, Boston....you know, all those places we aren't and don't want to be.

What do we have to show for these millions paid to Dean Campaign Contributors today ?

Going to have to spend some on Hemorrhoid meds before he's done.

By: Jason-Jaxan-Jas... on 2/7/11 at 1:06

I think we should move the track to a better location where noise is not an issue, move the fairgrounds to a flatter and better location so everyone of all ages can enjoy the fair, move the flea market to a flatter and newer location with easier access for both seller and buyer, and simply find a better use for this land in question. Look at it... the place really needs a facelift. I say start from scratch.

By: racer84 on 2/7/11 at 1:43

Jason, Are you offering to cover the $100 Million price to move those events ?

Please also let us know how long you've lived in Nashville, and what part you live in, and how this issue will effect you on a day to day basis ?

Please explain your thought process. I'd really like to know why after 106 years in it's current location and that 106 years of success...why all the sudden is it too hilly ?

The Flea Market's 500,000 buyers and vendors buyers from this past year did not have any issues with the property....or it probably wouldn't continue to be the top nationally.

And then there are those other 1,000,000 visiters and customers of the other events held there in the past year to consider.

I just don't understand why people think you have to spend 100 million, or just throw the whole place away when the fix is a no brainer and costs to fix aren't an issue.

By: bfra on 2/7/11 at 2:26

Karl & his puppets have run another event off! The Home Show has moved to the Williamson County Expo center. The board needs to replaced with people, not under Karl's thumb and for the betterment of the Fairgrounds.

By: Jason-Jaxan-Jas... on 2/7/11 at 3:15

I am not offering to pay anything, only give my opinion which is as valid as yours. I have lived in Nashville my whole live. I have lived close enough to the fairgrounds to hear the track for 42 years. I enjoy the flea market but have not been able to go very much the past few years as I am now in a wheelchair. Yes, it is a workout to move about out there. Like you, I didn't think much of it 8 years ago but that area either got hillier or I got older. I don't care much for the racing noise. I know it is only a few times a year but it is and always has been bothersome to me.

By: bfra on 2/7/11 at 3:23

Jason - So the race track was there, before you decided to settle in that area. Then why do you think it should be closed or moved? I hear trains & planes, but I am not up in arms about closing CSX or the airport!

By: racer84 on 2/7/11 at 3:32

Thanks for your response Jason, I still don't understand the logic of moving a successful group of enterprises to replace it with ??????

Kind of like trying to move a living thing from an enviroment in which it's lived for 106 years to a location no one seems to be able to name.....

When you move any of them, you kill all of them. Just talking about trying to move them is already running business away to other counties....and with those go jobs.

Which as many have previously stated is just not good sense.

By: Jason-Jaxan-Jas... on 2/7/11 at 3:40

My home was given to me by my fatherr-in-law. It is what my wife and I could afford at the time. With children and life in general we never could find the money to move to another home. If I could I would have lived in a castle. I am not up in arms about moving the track, I am offering my opinion. If I had a choice between having a race track close by or having it moved to another area I would choose to have it moved. I would think most people would be able to understand this simple line of reasoning without getting upset. Why are you so up in arms about my preference? I can't do anything about this situation at the fairgrounds so it shouldn't really bother you. Again, I'm just sharing my opinion.,

By: bfra on 2/7/11 at 3:46

Jason - Guess I have listened to too many house flippers and people that have moved in next to the race track and now want it shut down. Thanks for clearing that up and sorry I misunderstood.

By: racer84 on 2/7/11 at 4:43

If you read the Urban Land institute report it appears as though many homes and businesses in the area of the Fairgrounds will be torn down.

Notice it reads the 130 acres of the fairgrounds.....the fairgrounds are only 114.

By: FANOF711 on 2/7/11 at 5:10

GOT TO GET karl dean and his high priced puppets replaced to have any type of peace
i sure wish he would leave us the hell alone , and to the guy in the wheel chair i to am disabled and have trouble getting around but i still enjoy the fairgrounnds and the racetrack as often as i caN
you no nascar and raceing is a very popular sport that brings in millions of dollars our track needs and fairgrounds needs proper leadership and management not buck dozier or karl dean
its always made money out there until karl dean started his crap.
if daryle hall ran for mayor i would vote for him in a heartbeat we got to get karl dean out of his power hungry office

By: boyer barner on 2/7/11 at 11:25

Jason, I've lived in the 12th South area for 25 years since graduating from Vanderbilt. I currently live on Belmont Blvd. The traffic noise is constant, as well as the hum of 440. That's life in the "big city." I attend the races, as well as many other sporting events in town. I suggest you move to the country, where you can complain about howling coyotes or your neighbor's rooster.

By: MAmom on 2/7/11 at 11:52

It is incorrect to assume that everyone in the red shirts is a racing fan. Me and others who have attended recent Council meetings are flea market/Expo supporters & we wear red shirts also. FYI - the Flea Market vendors have formed an Association to fight Fairgrounds "redevelopment".

FYI - the majority of the signatures on the Save-my-Fairgrounds petition came from the general public - not from the racing community.


1) Say "how much money can be squeezed out of the property" instead of "highest and best use of the property".

2) Quantify what the future cash flows from "redevelopment" will actually be after tax incentives are factored into the equation.

3) Quantify how many people will use the property under the two scenarios (keeping the Fairgrounds open to the public vs. selling the property to private, unknown interests).

4) Remember that before the Fair Board decided to "redevelop" - they said that the Fairgrounds had a $50 to $60 million dollar impact on the local economy annually. They also said (in a Fair Board presentation that was on the nashville website in Fall 2010) that over a million people used the property each year.

4) Look at recent Fairgrounds income statements & diagnose why recent operations have not been as successful as in prior years - AND FIX THE PROBLEMS.

5) Look at recent Fairgrounds balance sheets.
(a) In 1999 "Cash and Equivalents" were $ 5,101,259. In the 2010 financials this asset is down to $1,612,086. WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?
(b) Between 1999 and 2010 capital assets at the Fairgrounds increased by over $6 million dollars. (To put this in perspective, the recently approved Nashville State Tech campus for Antioch is supposed to cost $8 million dollars). What was the $6 million dollars used for? Who did the work? Was there a bidding process for the work that was done? What was the ROI on the new capital assets? Were all these capital expenditures necessary?

6) Keep the planning process honest. Several council representatives said when the bill was passed... STAKEHOLDERS should be part of the planning process. It should not just be the work of City employees (who work for Dean) and the Fair Board (who work for Dean). If Stakeholdes are not included, any plan devised will not be honest - and will have no credibility.

By: MAmom on 2/8/11 at 8:09

(1) Per Weaver: " ‘What’s the right answer, given all these various factors, all the various viewpoints, and all of the various biases that people bring into this?...
The economic developers want land to develop.
The racers want a racetrack.
The flea market people want a place to have a flea market.
People who want a state fair want flat dirt.
Everybody comes to this with a different set of biases.' ”

As expected, economic developers are Weaver's FIRST CONSIDERATION. But then again "volunteer" Fair Board chairman Weaver represents opposing economic interests (remember the rotten Hickory Hollow leases deal?).


(2) Weaver also says: "the board, in combination with a consultant, needs to 'decide right up front' whether the point is to 'find a consensus or find the right answer.' "

"Right answer" is a pretty SUBJECTIVE term. And based on his past actions there is LITTLE doubt what Weaver's definition of "right answer" will be.


(3) Weaver says the decision will be made by the Fair Board (appointed by Dean) and a consultant who will get their direction by the Fair Board.

Sounds like Weaver intends to ignore the STAKEHOLDERS & the Council.

Or at least try to.

By: gdiafante on 2/8/11 at 9:51

Nuke it

By: lisaleeds2008 on 2/8/11 at 10:06


Land at the Fairgrounds is 115.9 acres really...

I read that Urban Land institute report and I see mass Eminent Domain coming.. And that is not good for those people at all.

By: lisaleeds2008 on 2/8/11 at 10:18

Def can be found in State Constitution Of The State Of Tennessee under Section 1 21.

Public Use..

By: bfra on 2/8/11 at 12:15

By: gdiafante on 2/8/11 at 9:51
Nuke it

This comment & yogi's "Obama is an illegal" have been on the board more times than any other comment! Give it up! Immaturity is not flattering.

By: gdiafante on 2/8/11 at 3:00

I do it to annoy you, babe. :)

By: karlwithak on 2/8/11 at 4:15

By: gdiafante on 2/8/11 at 3:00
I do it to annoy you, babe. :)

An easy way of admitting you have no friends, and no LIFE !
Which many of us already knew.

Back to ignoring.

By: Dr Danny on 2/9/11 at 7:48

Mr. Dean - tear down this Fairgrounds.

By: MAmom on 2/12/11 at 1:15

The Fairgrounds is a multi-use, multi-cultural, commons area. A great asset for Nashville.

To quote a Commentary by Niko Bolas from 12/6/2009:
"With a positive attitude and a non-partisan Fair Board we can turn it around and make it as special as it should be - with park space, fairs for everyone, roller derby, craft shows, trade shows, flea markets - without further impact on the environment, city infrastructure or anyone else in the neighborhood.

That won't cost near as much as other outcomes, and this choice can be modified going forward if it is not working in 10 years."

Save the Fairgrounds!

Make Dean a 1-term Mayor!