Broad Logic: Hey, mayor — Say something on Bells Bend

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 1:20am

Of the impending decision whether to allow developers to build a $4 billion city within a city — that is, the colossal May Town Center in Bells Bend — Mayor Karl Dean has said variously that the idea is intriguing… But that Bells Bend is beautiful… That he has the responsibility to consider any economic development possibility… But that there’s a process developers must navigate.

His public feelings about this monumentally important issue — whose environmental, economic, planning and even moral implications are both deep and wide — are vague, noncommittal, muddy. To Nashvillians watching him for a cue, any cue, he is like an agnostic questioning his faith. If you’re scratching your head, that’s the point.

Politicians, even our friendly Fred Flintstone lookalike with the endearingly awkward personality, tend to become cagey and equivocal when the stakes get this high. We’re talking multimillion-dollar bridges, angry neighbors (some of them literally wielding pitchforks, as this is farm land), 1,500 acres of Davidson County real estate, racial tension, moneyed developers who hurl around cash like farmers fling cow pies.

Do we besmirch one of the last — if not the last — pastoral corners of Davidson County and embrace a commuting commonwealth of cubicle dwellers, with the attendant traffic and condos, in the name of expanding the tax base?

Do we create a dense office park that competes with downtown for tenants, on the theory that growth is redemptive even if it means there’s more dark office space in the central business district?

Does it make sense to develop greenfield so radically, or would that undermine Nashville’s environmental credibility, which Dean has been trying hard to cultivate? (Full disclosure: I live in close proximity to the proposed project and am skeptical, but that’s not the point.)

The controversy is replete with imposing public policy questions, unsavory politics and historic implications. Which is why the mayor’s preppy loafers are planted firmly in the middle of the idyllic two-lane road. Who, beyond those with personal or monetary stakes, would relish this fight? On one side is an energetic army of intentional rural dwellers who are capable researchers, cage-rattlers and spokespeople, and on the other a cluster of slick-haired suits who’ve already spent $28 million on the gamble.

It’s a sticky wicket for sure.

But guess what, Karl? This is what you signed up for. Nashvillians decided they didn’t want Buck Dozier or Bob Clement, Howard Gentry or David Briley sitting behind that bulletproof glass in the Courthouse corner office. They chose you because they thought you’d not flinch, even on contentious issues requiring a stronger-than-average backbone. They liked your candor and straightforward approach and figured you’d serve them well.

Sure, there’s a process. There’s one for the $635 million convention center too, but you’re behind that one because, everyone both for and against can agree, it’s a seminal civic issue. Opponents have and will criticize your advocacy, but you can’t be accused of being a stuttering mealy mouth. That the so-called Music City Center would be publicly funded while May Town is a private venture is of little consequence, as the infrastructure the “city in a cow pasture” would require is enormous and would demand significant government wherewithal.

In other words, Mr. Mayor, please say something — anything — and soon.

The Metro Planning Commission takes up the developer’s proposed zoning change, which must get the nod if they want to advance May Town, this week and will vote on it in early June. Whether you lead us to see the migrating Bells Bend whooping cranes or, alternatively, to construction cranes, for God’s sake, lead us. Surely you have some thoughts. Now would be a good time to share them. And if reason won’t sway you, consider the possibility that you might regret your silence.

Meanwhile, a Nashville journalist wrote of you in 2007, in endorsing your candidacy for mayor: “He’s not politically insecure, and thus doesn’t engage in the kind of cunning doublespeak that others have demonstrated a willingness to practice. His rhetoric is plain and clear, lacking platitudes and kowtowing.”

Don’t make me a liar.

11 Comments on this post:

By: frodo on 5/26/09 at 7:01

As usual, Liz wastes no time tarring everyone on an issue, from pitchforkers to greedy developers to penny loafers to, of course, another mayor. All for the sake of the politically correct environment (or is it for the downtown enterprises built on land at one time just as pristine as Bells Bend?). You know, I think Liz likes to sling mud just because that is what Liz does. She, who at one time told a group that people who write these online comments are just "a bunch of crazies" couldn't be expected to do anything less.

By: Kosh III on 5/26/09 at 7:17

Dean can make or break this issue so his silence is significant. I wish he would come out and oppose this folly.

By: frodo on 5/26/09 at 7:56

This is not a folly, Kosh, any more than the decision to build an airport or a college on a quiet country field. You folks need to get out of Nashville and realize Tennessee still has thousands of square miles of squirrels, ticks and coyotes to cozy up to on your nature walks. This is Nashville, where people live and work (until all of the living and working go south and we're left with no tax base). People build things in cities. If you want nature, either go to the zoo or get out of town. I have no stake in Bells Bend. But as a citizen I am sick and tired of these passionate games people play to obstruct progress. If you have this deep need for a cause, then go volunteer for the Red Cross or collect cans for Second Harvest. Stop harrassing business developers who operate within the law.

By: Kosh III on 5/26/09 at 8:13

frodo has obviously never been to Bells Bend. I'd suggest you go out there and see how difficult access is and will be no matter what.

Access is a serious issue. It will take millions in taxpayer money to get the infrastructure in there. The best location for a bridge is thru West Meade, reconnecting OHB over the Cumberland. Don't be fooled by their emply promise to build a bridge. We will be stuck with it's expense sooner or later.

And then these "developers" will want millions in welfare before they will develop here, and any gain we might have will be lost because we are giving the store away.

The Mays will get their approval, turn around, sell it someone else who will build something which has no resemblance to what MTC is alleged to be.

By: frodo on 5/26/09 at 9:54

If you are against extravagant corporate welfare, then I'm with you. If you are against building a bridge, then let's take pause and consider how we got the bridges we now have. Except for highways that carry people through the state, we build bridges because someone cleared land and built something where there wasn't anything before. Whatever logic you use to oppose a bridge, extend it backward to past bridges, and see if you are able to get to work in the morning.

By: Captain Nemo on 5/26/09 at 11:43

Maytown is wouls stunt if not stop the growth of Nashville center core.

frodo would screaming blooded murder if May Town was to move a little north to frodo's neighborhood.

By: frodo on 5/26/09 at 12:23

Bring it on! May Town in my back yard.

And what's with this sacred "Nashville center core," Captain? Why did Cool Springs become an entire city out of nothing if Nashville center core was so ripe for development?

By: shinestx on 5/26/09 at 1:58

I'm still scratching my head over the location of this project. It would seem to make far more sense to build it closer to the airport. This is literally "in the middle of nowhere". Could this be to office development what Bellevue Center Mall was to shopping centers?

By: Captain Nemo on 5/26/09 at 2:31

First off frodo, the people in your back yard would go ballistic over a project this size.

Second the City center is being developed into a livable central area.

And what is so sacred about May Town for you frodo? Are you going to make money out of it?

By: Checkmate on 5/26/09 at 4:14

Anybody that understands the predicates to a dense mixed use development like Reston Town Center would get a chuckle out of this plan. No nearby airport, class a office space, retail space, exec housing or adequate roads or schools will matter to the corporate campus types that these guys are promising, not to mention the banks that will have to fund before the campus types even get something to consider.

And speaking of "these guys", is it just me or is it odd that there isn't an experienced developer working with the May's to assure the folks at metro that this thing has a chance ? The fact that the best they could do was hire Tony Girantanna as their hitman speaks volumes. From what I read his only office experience is that he leased an office building 15 or 20 years ago for another developer. I'm sorry but that and the Signature Tower debacle just don't inspire much confidence. Where are all the bigtime mixed-use developers chomping at the bit to partner with the May's and make this happen?

By: Dawntreader on 5/28/09 at 4:29

Here we go again. So, "broad logic" - that's supposed to be a funny - like because
Liz is a woman? And she thinks its cute to observe that our Mayor looks like Fred Flintstone? Foul language will creep in next. This is the start of bad, vulgar "journalism" that is beneath the City Paper and was beneath the Nashville Scene.