Six weeks ago, Mayor Karl Dean announced plans to retrofit Antioch’s Hickory Hollow Mall to house several Metro facilities, as well as a new expo center to replace the one at the Metro-owned state fairgrounds.
Plans were unveiled in September even though Dean and his administration hadn’t secured a lease agreement with mall owner CBL Properties.
The administration has now secured two separate lease-purchase agreements and one lease agreement, which are combined in an ordinance that was filed Friday, Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling wrote in a memorandum to Metro council members Tuesday.
The council is now set to weigh in on Dean’s plans to relocate events held at the fairgrounds shortly after it considers a competing bill filed by Metro Councilman Duane Dominy that would essentially preserve the fairgrounds property off Nolensville Pike for fair and expo purposes.
Riebeling describes the three agreements in his memo. The first involves lease-purchasing the 130,000-square-foot former JC Penney building at the north end of the mall. Using $18 million carved out of Dean’s capital spending plan, the facility would be converted into a regional community center, library, public health center, Metro Archives and multi-acre public park.
A second lease-purchase –– the one that could turn controversial for some council members –– would allow Metro to move events held at the fairgrounds to the 200,000-square-foot former Dillard’s site at the south end of the mall. As part of the lease, CBL Properties would be required to pump $2.5 million into the building to renovate the building to meet expo center needs.
A third lease provides space inside the mall to be used by the Metro Health Department.
“As Mayor Karl Dean stated in September when first announcing the projects, all of these new facilities combined will have a tremendously positive impact on the struggling Hickory Hollow Mall,” Riebeling wrote.
Riebeling goes on to try to clarify the administration’s fairgrounds position, explaining why it hopes to move the expo center facilities from Nolensville Pike to Antioch.
Since 2005, Riebeling said, the fairgrounds has experienced a cumulative revenue loss of $3.6 million. As a result of the erosion of fairgrounds reserves, he said, operating the fairgrounds in the future would require a “direct subsidy from the Metro taxpayers.”
Riebeling cites the Tennessee State Fair Association, a coalition of tourism and agriculture leaders that is searching for a new home inside Davidson County to hold the annual Tennessee State Fair, which played host to its final event at Nolensville Pike in September.
“All of the major events held at the state fairgrounds can have a new and better home and we still have the fairgrounds property to provide a much-needed park and green space to the area while opening the way for tremendous economic development that could revitalize another area of our city,” said Riebeling, alluding to plans to convert 40 acres of the Metro-owned fairgrounds property into a park. “The Council approved the first $2 million for the fairgrounds park in the capital spending plan.”
Riebeling then discusses the “redevelopment potential” of the fairgrounds property, suggesting it could be a prime site for corporate relocation. Sources have previously told The City Paper that multiple corporations have approached Metro about the site.
“Corporations frequently scout the Nashville area for places to locate new and expanding facilities,” Riebeling said. “Unlike many of our surrounding counties, large tracts of land near the interstate are hard to come by.
“The fairgrounds site is the perfect location for a mixed-use development with office space and retail,” he added. “The infrastructure to support such a development is already in place, and it would not eliminate any green space.”