Seven months ago, the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners –– following the command of the Metro Council –– helped finalize the language of a request for proposals in search of an engineering or planning firm to conduct a master plan to determine the best use of the 117-acre, much-disputed fairgrounds.
Not one company placed a bid. Now, Metro has started from scratch.
“We didn’t receive any respondents to that inquiry,” Jeff Gossage, Metro’s assistant finance director and purchasing agent, told The City Paper. “Any time that happens, we ask the question, ‘What was the problem?’ ”
In this case, Gossage offered several reasons why no company stepped up. Namely, he said the scope and cost of the project was too large. He also cited the general confusion over the future of the fairgrounds property, given the political uncertainty leading up to August’s fairgrounds referendum.
“It pretty much fell in the category of: ‘We don’t know what the city’s commitment to this is,’ ” he said.
The city this week tweaked its master plan approach, creating two separate phases.
On Monday, the purchasing division of Metro’s Finance Department issued two separate RFPs for companies –– one to conduct a fair and events analysis, the other to recommend the master plan. Collectively, Gossage said the new RFPs have reduced the project’s scope considerably.
Gossage said the first phase is geared at the “fairgrounds and events,” alluding to the existing events such as the annual state fair, race track and expo center. The idea is to bring in a firm from the “entertainment, recruiting, promoting world,” he said. “They would be able to speak to that: What is needed to make that work? What is the perfect plan? How would you implement that perfect plan?”
The second phase, the creation of the master plan, would be an “analytical approach.” He said a firm should take into account recommended fairgrounds functions from the previous analysis, and answer: “What is the economic and urban impact of having done that?”
Bids for both RFPs are due by mid-November. Companies are to begin Jan. 1, 2012.
The genesis of the fairgrounds master plan goes back to January when the Metro Council defeated a bill that would have called for the demolition of the fairgrounds speedway. Instead, the council voted for a separate amendment –– and later a bill in full ––that set the course for a master plan to objectively look at the site.
Under the language of the law, the fair board, Metro Planning Department and Metro Parks and Recreation Department are to take part in the process.
“In the end, it will be kind of the three entities –– parks, planning and fair –– coming to together saying, ‘Having all this information in front of us, now what seems to be the best for Nashville?’ said fair board chair Katy Varney, “working with whatever consultant we have on the second part.”
Much has transpired since the council set forth the master plan 10 months ago, including the passage of a Metro Charter amendment that has made it more difficult to redevelop the fairgrounds by requiring 27 of 40 council votes.
Mayor Karl Dean, who unsuccessfully tried to redevelop the property last year, has continually referenced the outcome of the master plan when asked whether he would pursue redevelopment again.
In other fairgrounds news, the fair board Tuesday delayed voting on extending a contract to the Tennessee State Fair Association to host the 2012 state fair.
The group of state tourism and agriculture leaders operated September’s 2011 state fair, and is hoping to hold the annual event again. State fair attendance figures were down considerably this year. Organizers have blamed the fair board’s last-minute decision in bringing them on board, which gave them only two months to prepare.
“They had 67 days by the time they started,” Varney said. “They did a marvelous job, and everybody acknowledges what a great job they did.
“The thought was, we now don’t have to get it done yet,” she said of the board’s decision. “We’re 12 months away from the next fair.”
The board will take up the contract issue again in November.