The future of Nashville’s fairgrounds property is becoming clearer, with Mayor Karl Dean on Monday announcing plans for a new park that would cover one-third of the much-debated land at Nolensville Pike and Wedgewood Avenue.
As part of the mayor’s capital-spending plan for the current fiscal year, Dean has set aside $2 million to go toward the planning of a new park that would sit on 40 acres of the 117-acre property, land that falls within the city’s floodplain. Proposed capital projects — originally postponed in the aftermath of May’s flood — have been refiled with the Metro Council and await final approval.
“People love parks,” Dean said. “This will be a huge upgrade in terms of the way this will look versus the way it is right now.”
While Dean envisions the new park having “obvious things such as baseball fields, and soccer fields” and to include a restoration of Browns Creek, which runs adjacent to the property, he said he has no timeframe on when the park would actually be built. Instead, a public input and planning phase is to be undertaken by Metro Parks and Recreation before the new park becomes a reality.
“I can’t give you an exact date,” Dean said. “We’ll move forward with it when the capital budget is passed.”
Tommy Lynch, interim director of the parks department, said similar park studies usually take four to six months to complete following the council’s appropriation of funds. Such a timeframe could allow Dean to carve out funds to physically build the park in next year’s capital budget.
Dean’s announcement comes a week after a task force assigned to study the future of the fairgrounds released a report that found one of the “reoccurring themes” to come out of a series of community meetings is that redevelopment possibilities include the creation of green space and a new park.
“The community has been asking, ‘Where can we take our kids?’ ” said Metro Councilwoman Sandra Moore, who served on the task force and who represents the neighborhood that surrounds the fairgrounds. “So, I’m pretty comfortable with saying that [the park] is a great idea.”
After years of declining revenue, Dean has made clear that Metro is no longer in the state fair business and that the property should be redeveloped. The final Tennessee State Fair at its current location, now operated by an outside company, is running this week through Sept. 19.
The notion of redeveloping the fairgrounds property has turned into a lightning-rod issue for some Nashvillians, along with a handful of council members who support the preservation of the grounds.
“I think a 40-acre park is appropriate on the fairgrounds,” said Councilman Duane Dominy, who claims to have collected 36,000 petition signatures in support of preserving the fairgrounds. “What I don’t agree with is destroying 104 years of tradition in order to do that. The area that would be converted into a park could be done so without shutting down the events and without shutting down the fairgrounds.”
Dean last week announced plans to relocate events held at the fairgrounds expo center — flea markets and antiques shows, for example — to space inside Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch. Meanwhile, a group of state tourism and agriculture leaders known as the Tennessee State Fair Association is exploring properties where a revamped state fair could be held in the future.
As for the future of the fairgrounds site, the proposed park is likely just the beginning. Developers are eyeing the land for mixed-use possibilities and corporate executives have met with Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce leaders to discuss corporate expansion or relocation to the site. Dean said his administration has received no formal offers for the site.
“As a city, we need to always be mindful of the fact that we need to expand our tax base and that we need to be in position where we can actually compete for economic development,” said Dean when asked about corporate interest. “No offers have been made, there is no leases, no promises made.”