Nashvillians give input on new fairgrounds master plan

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 12:02am

Shannon McCullough, a resident near Nashville’s fairgrounds for decades, has some ideas to improve an institution she loves: Incorporate urban farming, build a partnership with the neighboring elementary school, and update plumbing and electrical wiring at its expo-center buildings.

“It’s been 20 to 30 years of neglect,” McCullough said of the Metro-owned Tennessee State Fairgrounds.

Bob Borzak of East Nashville goes straight to the point: “Bulldoze it and bring it back to where it needs to be, just like any other big city,” he said. “I think it’s embarrassing what we have right now.”

Then there are people like Jen Trail, a member of a group of fairgrounds neighbors who cringe at noise of the fairgrounds speedway and hope the 117-acre property can one day be developed.

“As a resident, I don’t feel like it’s really an asset to our neighborhood,” Trail said. “There are other things that the community and Nashville larger could enjoy there.”

Nashvillians had their say Monday at a Metro-sponsored open house designed to gather community feedback to a create a new fairgrounds master plan, a “data-driven” document that will recommend options for fairgrounds and expo center operations, its physical location and the surrounding area near Wedgewood Avenue and Nolensville Pike.

“What would it look like if we had a higher-quality fair and exposition center here — if investment were made into it?” said Ann Hammond, assistant executive director of the Metro Planning Department, which is spearheading the master-planning process alongside Metro Parks & Recreation and the fair board.

“What would the economics be? To do a good job of figuring that out, you need to hear from the public,” she said.

The fairgrounds — and whether to transform it to a mixed-use development — turned into the city’s most contentious issue a year ago, but the politics has largely subsided.

In 2011, Davidson County residents voted overwhelmingly to approve a Metro charter amendment to require a new 27-vote council majority to change the property’s existing functions. The referendum came after the council foiled Mayor Karl Dean’s plans to redevelop the fairgrounds, opting to also spare the property’s racetrack from demolition.

Gov. Bill Haslam in May signed into law a bill that allows the state agriculture commissioner to appoint a state fair advisory commission to oversee the annual state fair. The move has raised some uncertainty over Metro’s future role with the event, but fair operators have not indicated they plan to move the event outside Davidson County.

The notion of a fairgrounds master plan originated from an approved amendment put forth by Councilman Jason Holleman during last year’s definitive council vote.

“The turnout tonight and the level of participation by people in the community is exactly what I wanted to see,” Holleman said.

Citizens in attendance at Monday’s open house took seats at roundtables with maps of the existing fairgrounds in front of them. They filled out comment cards. Flanking one side of the room were stands highlighting information of other state fair facilities in South Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and elsewhere.

Metro officials have divided the master plan into two phases — one for the fairgrounds and its expo center operations, the other to explore potential development opportunities at the site.

The city has hired Minnesota-based Conventions, Sports and Leisure International to work on the initial phase. Nashville’s EDGE Planning, Landscape, Architecture and Graphic Design will work on phase two.

“We’re going to create two concept plans,” said Hammond of the planning department. “The key to this is not the urban design and the pretty drawings. They key to this is the economics of it. We’ve never had that information. This is a data driven study.”

Project leaders are to undertake a range of fairground analyses in advance of a final product. Areas to be covered include: existing market conditions for the fairgrounds operations; best practices; market demand; program, site and event; costs/benefit and business and funding.

The mayor and council would then review the final master plan document, and decide which if any parts to pursue.

The fairgrounds site has been the subject of several “highest and best use” studies in the past. But Buck Dozier, executive director of Metro’s fairgrounds, believes this latest master plan can have a lasting impact.

“Despite all the controversy, whatever the recommendations are will jumpstart the final solution,” Dozier said. “This one, I believe, won’t sit and gather dust. The recommendations will have to be addressed.”

25 Comments on this post:

By: capt4chris on 7/23/12 at 11:29

More studies? Enough is enough. When is it time to start taking action??

Also, it still baffles me that the media reports on these things AFTER they occur. How about tweeting a heads up BEFORE so I can actually go?

By: Shane Smiley on 7/23/12 at 11:44

Here is a link to the website for Phase 1 of the Master Plan.
From this site you can be added to the Email list and receive notifications from the planning department.

By: GrnGiant on 7/24/12 at 5:12

I know people who are adamant about keeping the fairgrounds as is...some even live in other counties. To them I would like to say, "well could we swap bedrooms when there is a race at the speedway? Because I can't sleep in mine". The fairgrounds is any eyesore on valuable property that could be used for the public good.

By: jimmie on 7/24/12 at 6:30

GrnGiant - I call BS. I'll take that deal.
I was outside the speedway in the parking lot and could not hear the cars, I spoke to others from the neighborhood 2 blocks away who also said they could not hear them anymore.

By: capt4chris on 7/24/12 at 6:58

Thank you Shane!

Now that you mention it, I haven't heard cars over there in a long while. I'm about a mile from the Fairgrounds.

By: whitetrash on 7/24/12 at 7:04

Should the article be titled:
Nashvillians give input on new fairgrounds master plan or
Some Nashvillians give input on new fairgrounds along with people from the backwoods of Middle Tennessee? There were several cars in the parking lot with out of county tags on them...

By: jimmie on 7/24/12 at 7:27

Whitetrash - How about the number of Metro employees earning over $100k that live out of county ?
Next argument.

By: BigPapa on 7/24/12 at 7:39

Having a race track in the middle of town is asinine. I'd put my money on Dean. He's got the time to wait this out and eventually get his way.

By: localboy on 7/24/12 at 8:14

"Whitetrash - How about the number of Metro employees earning over $100k that live out of county ?" Jimmie, what's that got to do with this topic?
Next argument.

By: anjnew on 7/24/12 at 8:27

"Having a race track in the middle of town is asinine", REALLY?? You act as if its the size of a nascar track. Well then lets take out all the wasted space of golf courses, since we are going to be judgemental and pick on a person choice of sport, that ONLY takes place now once a month and has to be done by 10pm. The people of NASHVILLE have spoken GET OVER IT!!! We want to keep the track, either help come up with a solution or shut it up and quit whinning.

By: BigPapa on 7/24/12 at 8:37

My solution would involve bulldozers and wreaking balls.

anjnew- do you live next to a race track?
Seriously- that's not the optimal place to have a race track, you generally have something like in the far reaches of the county. And, if you are trying to compare a race track to a golf course I think you need to re-think your position.

By: whitetrash on 7/24/12 at 9:13

How many Golf courses are there within the 440 loop? NONE! How many racetracks are there? One. The worst possible place you could have a racetrack would be in the core of the City.

NO business or homeowner wants to live next to a racetrack. The reason folks are moving into the surrounding area of the fairgrounds is because people who can afford it want to be close to the heartbeat of Nashville which is as close as possible to the City's core.

By: jimmie on 7/24/12 at 9:24

I wouldn't want to live next door to a Vietti Chili Plant, a Coke Bottling Plant, the largest Auto Supply house in the city, a traintrack, nor a busy interstate....

All of those are within a quarter mile of the Fairgrounds.
Getting rid of the racetrack will not change the ZONING from INDUSTRIAL to residential for the area.

By: jonw on 7/24/12 at 9:45


Just wondering -- - - who was there first - - - - - the fairgrounds & racetrack, or the whiners.
If one does not like State Fairs & Flea Markets, that was not the optimal place to buy or rent.

By: jonw on 7/24/12 at 9:45


Just wondering -- - - who was there first - - - - - the fairgrounds & racetrack, or the whiners.
If one does not like State Fairs & Flea Markets, that was not the optimal place to buy or rent.

By: ds on 7/24/12 at 10:16

As far as I know the track was built for horse racing.

By: Kelliente on 7/24/12 at 10:17

There's a lot of history at that Racetrack. Tearing it down because you decided to buy a house next to it and then decided it was too noisy would be extremely short sighted. The racetrack is unique and a piece of Nashville's heritage. The last thing we need is to replace it with some ridiculous, cookie-cutter commercial development. Remember Opryland.

By: jimmie on 7/24/12 at 10:54

You can travel the world over and will never find another property as unique and special as the Tn State Fairgrounds. Just as there is not another Ryman Auditorium in the world. When they woke up and realized they needed to embrace what they had and refurbished the Ryman what happened ?
People come from all over the world to experience it and love it.
Same thing here.
No one travels to a city to visit a Starbucks, or an office space.
Clean the place up, add the greenspace around the property, Build a state of the art Horse Arena and Show area, convert the asphalt parking to the "green" parking lots, Tear down the ratty duplexes and build a parking garage and the city of Nashville would have a crown jewel that exists no where else but here.

City doesn't have the $$ to do it but Bill Freeman does, and is willing to build it....If Metro butts out and takes his money annually for doing so.
Why does this have to be so difficult ?
Poor Leadership and failed visions from the king.....seems to be a trend in Nashville.

By: whitetrash on 7/24/12 at 11:59

Jimmie I don't know whether to take your comments seriously or laugh my butt off... OMG you don't have a clue...

By: Shane Smiley on 7/24/12 at 12:16

Actually Whitetrash, Jimmy does have a clue and some good points.
The Fairgrounds property has a great deal of potential. Mismanagement has been an issue at the Fairgrounds for many years.
With the proper management, long term leases, and a focus on the future, the property can and should continue its current uses and expand its services and events to benefit the community.

I am going to ask everyone involved to keep the conversation civil.
Try to find common ground and work out the issues in a civil manner.
The issues with the property were not caused by the neighbors or the attendees of Fairgrounds events. If we work together, we have the ability to make positive changes.

By: BigPapa on 7/24/12 at 12:26

Who was there first is completely and totally irrelevant.

The fact is it is NOW in the middle of the city. Things change, cities grow, areas change. Some for the better (East Nashville) some for the worse (Antioch). This area could be the next East Nashville and the track doesn't help, it hurts... a race track is more likely to cause blight than to cure it- therefore it needs to go.

By: jimmie on 7/24/12 at 2:48

Whitetrash - Prove me wrong.

By: PillowTalk4 on 7/25/12 at 10:53

People who moved into the area had to know there would be noise from the racetrack from time to time. It's like living near an airport, hospital or firehall. There will be noise even if you are a mile or so away. If you live near a high school or college, you know there will be noise from sporting events, bands, etc. Should we not have high schools and colleges located near residential neighborhoods because of the noise. TSU's band can be heard practicing miles away from the campus. People living in those areas that hear the band accept that it's part of the atmosphere within their communities. Fact is if you live in the city you are going to experience a higher degree of noise and other disturbances.

The fairgrounds are an eyesore that is without question. Nashville should either invest in redeveloping the site to be a premier site to host the State Fair and other events or turn it over to developers to create a mix use urban center. Because of many childhood memories of visiting the fairgrounds I'd hate to see the site turned over to becoming just another commercial retail development. I remember the huge swiming pool that used to be there. I remember the excitement of seeing the old Skyliner Rollercoaster as you drove down Nolensville Road. I remember the fun our church, other groups and friends had going to the skating rink that used to be there. And, of course I remember the State Fair and all it's rides, games and other activities. It's ashame that Nashville let the Fairgrounds get into the condition they are in. After visiting the Fairgrounds in Dallas, I was even more ashame of how Nashville just let the Fairgrounds fall apart. I don't know about the fairgrounds that are in South Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas. But, I do know that Dallas has a remarkable state fair and the grounds are excellent. They host huge flea markets throughout the year and specialty events. Attracting thousands for each event.

I'm not sure that a racetrack is still needed at the Nashville Fairgrounds, but a redeveloped fairgrounds could include a multi-purpose theater with multiple size auditoriums to stage various theatrical productions, and small to medium size concerts. Alexandria, VA has this small but charming place called the Birchmere. It's a theater that seats probably around 500 max and they serve drinks, dinner, etc. during the events. It's great, it sits in the heart of a residential area but doesn't create issues for the area. Washington, DC has two facilties that host small theatrical productions that would be a great fit for the Fairgrounds. The Studio Theater and Arena Stages are two venues in DC that offer small to medium size auditoriums for a variety of theatrical performances. Some have actual stages, others are in the round. So the atmosphere is very intimate and perfect for small productions. Both sit in areas that are commercial and residential. The Arena Stages venue in particular was redesigned as part of the redevelopment of DC's Southwest Waterfront which is booming with new housing, restaurants and small businesses. Nashville should strongly consider a mix use redevelopment plan to include land set-aside for the State Fair and exposition halls. But it should also include dinning, entertainment and probably some housing in the mix.

By: Shadow63 on 7/25/12 at 5:47

Haslam's move is an end run. Once the Fair is moved there is no need for a fairground. Who can't see that? What kind of clodhopper state capitol doesn't have a state fair?

By: Shadow63 on 7/25/12 at 5:54

Why are we investing milions in tax incentives to develope a theme park in a quality residential area across from Opry Mills when we have the fairgrounds. Huge area, centrally located close to downtown hotels and merchants.
Something fishy going on here.