‘Bunker’ controversy shifts from neighbors to taxpayers

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 2:35am

An opposition group to the planned underground hall at the governor’s mansion launched a public relations campaign Tuesday, shifting the conversation from a neighborhood dispute in upscale Oak Hill to the broader issue of appropriate use of taxpayer funds.

First Lady Andrea Conte, the Tennessee Residence Foundation and the state are planning on constructing a 14,024-square foot “Conservation Hall” underneath the front yard of the Executive Residence.

The hall is planned to host banquet-style events and to provide a large meeting space at the governor’s mansion.

In recent months, the plan for what critics call “Bredesen’s bunker” have riled neighbors in the tony neighborhood of Oak Hill. Residents have mainly complained about noise from the required blasting, additional traffic and general quality-of-life issues.

The scope was shifted in recent weeks, however, as one of Oak Hill’s wealthiest residents, car dealership owner Lee Beaman, invested $30,000 to $40,000 in seed money to start Tennesseans for Accountability in Government (TAG), a 501(c)4 nonprofit.

Tuesday, TAG hosted a mid-afternoon press conference, demanding to know additional information about the Conservation Hall and its finances and saying the project is an “irresponsible waste of money.”

“Anything less is unconscionable behavior by our public servants and is unacceptable,” said Susan Kaestner, TAG’s vice president. “TAG calls on the citizens of Tennessee who believe that we do not need to spend millions of dollars on an extravagant ballroom at the governor’s residence to act.”

State Architect Mike Fitts said the state would spend $3.86 million in connection with the Conservation Hall in order to widen the driveway, build a roundabout to drop off guests, make the complex ADA compliant and do landscaping.

If the state had decided to construct an above ground facility, as originally planned, Fitts said the state would have still had to spend a portion of that $3.86 million to do tasks like widen the driveway. He could not say how much the state would have spent if the alternative plan were chosen.

Besides the state’s portion, the remainder of the Conservation Hall will be funded through $4.8 million in private donations given to the Tennessee Residence Foundation.

“It’s justified in my mind,” Fitts said, adding an above-ground facility would have compromised the aesthetic appeal of the executive residence.

At this point, the overall cost of “Bredesen’s bunker” could be as high as $8.66 million.

Besides as much as $8.66 million for the Conservation Hall, state and private dollars spent at the governor’s mansion also includes funding renovations to the existing home. Those renovations included a new slate roof and new HVAC equipment, among others.

Overall, the state is set to spend $12.825 million and the Tennessee Residence Foundation contributing an additional $6.4 million to take the total cost to $19.2 million.

The only additional amount, Fitts said, would come from the state spending additional money on the existing carriage house to make it into a guesthouse facility.

Tuesday, TAG tried to compare the size of Conservation Hall and its 14,024 square feet to that of specific entertainment spaces, saying it was about four times the size of the East Room in the White House and larger than other existing facilities in Nashville.

The planned ballroom, however, for Conservation Hall will compose just about 3,000 square feet of the 14,000-square-foot facility, Fitts said.

The remainder of the space would be for the kitchen, bathrooms, cloakrooms, hallways, storage rooms, an HVAC unit and additional areas like the lobby and the staircase, Fitts said.

TAG’s Kaestner said she was unaware that the planned ballroom would be 3,000 square feet, but maintained that the Conservation Hall would have an environmental effect.

“There is a footprint question that is huge,” Kaestner said.

Filed under: City News
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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Bad idea especially for that location.Even with remote parking they will have bus or other traffic makeing the other residents prisoners.Would love to hear Minnie on this folly.

By: BADCOPS on 12/31/69 at 6:00

As a tax payer I do not approve of this. Bredesen has spent more money over and above what is leagally allowed.With all the huff over this you'd think the governor would listen to the people, the taxpayers, as it is there money, but he like others ignores the people.Kudos to those who started "Tennesseans for Accountability in Government." It is well needed in this state. :-)

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I just started playing my violin for you.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Here is their website.http://taxwastestopshere.org/

By: Fundit on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If our city had no other venue, that would be different. If the Governor's Mansion were miles away from town, that would be another. However, the reality is that the Ryman, Schemerhorn, TPAC and other halls are just a short limo ride down Franklin Road for the Governor and his lovely wife. They need to suck it up and let the residents have the quiet, "tony" neighborhood they deserve and have paid quite handsomely to call their own.

By: crackcitytn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I am also against this. The state can do more productive things with the money then pay for a place for Bredesen to party.The insanity within our government leaders is overwhelming.

By: crackcitytn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thanks ID for the website....

By: yank283 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Ahh, th poo wittle wich people are afaid this might affect der property values...aint they cute...I'd be sympathetic, ecxept I know, 95% of these people probably helped re-elect Bush and his tax cuts for the wealthy when were blowing 5 billion a month in tax expenditures in Iraq.

By: Rocket99 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Check out the 3 officers of this group. They aren't doing this for the general population's benefit. I'd be willing to bet that if Sundquist had wanted it they would have backed it.

By: mtguyot on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Am I the only one who cannot stand the blatant hypocrisy of starting a group to "fight against public waste" just because you don't want a certain development in your neighborhood. Regardless of whether we need the "ballroom" I find it disgusting that certain individuals can spend more money to send us chasing a potential red herring than the mortgage on my first house just over 10 years ago. I googled Rusty Seibert and found that he was head of Tenncare under Sundquist, such a paragon of careful spending. The connections of Susan Kaestner and Crom Carmichael are a little harder discern. There is a lot of government waste, but I really doubt that this group has the real interest to actually go looking for it.

By: TRHJR on 12/31/69 at 6:00

MY OH MY... DOES THIS MEAN THAT TITAN & AND THAT MTG ARE ON THE GUESS LIST ? SINCE BOTH OF YOU ARE FOR IT... OR MAYBE YOU TWO CAN PARK CARS, OR CLEAN UP AFTER THE TROWH DOWN

By: Sarge on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I'm aganist this wastefull spending of our money. Our good governor increase the tax on tabacco, but then it is ok to spend millions on the Governors Mansion. Has he compleatly lost it. We have an old THP Communications center on McClory Lane with a underground bunker, built when Governor Clement was in office. It will house the compleate staff of the Governor, has everything he could use if we were hit by an Atomic Bomb. It is empty and being used by nobody in our dear Governors Office. Then again, look at all the money he saved when he cut the Tenn Care patients. I lost a dear friend when he could not afford his heart medicine. Gotta save that money for the State.

By: airvols on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Well I wonder what the real motive is here. Is the TAG organizations a bunch of registered Republicians? LOL I smell politics all over this fight.

By: xyzzy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think the cost is the big issue. Numbers have been loosely thrown around and now the cost has ballooned for a non-public space using public money. The impression was always the vast majority of the money would be private and now the majority of the money is tax-payer money. This really boils down to Andre Conte creating a tangible landmark legacy and woe to those who get in her way. I think she has checked her political acumen at the door and is now fiercely fighting this matter because it is her personal legacy. Unfortunately, she is doing it with tax-payer money.

By: roger717 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This is all about Lee Beaman's latest attempt at misinformation. He was Tennessee's largest contributor to the Swift Boat organization which lied about Sen. John Kerry. Now he is putting the profits he makes from Tennesseans who buy cars from him to work against the interests of Tennesseans and to protect his neighborhood against all those "common" folks.My friends won't buy cars from Beaman because they don't want to fund his ultra right-wing lies.

By: TharonChandler on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If it were me I'd sow that ground in Beans and Potatoes; plus I'd make sure that all "public, government" functions were over with by dark (so as to cut down on all the Vice that is funded by "the taxpayers"). Also, if they built a new state prison there at that site, in Oak Hill, it could be no less welcome (to the local neighbors) than is the one being built at L'birg Tennessee.

By: dnewton on 12/31/69 at 6:00

$19.2 million divided by 14024 is $1369.08 per square feet! That does not include a reserve for the inevitable cost over run. Is this thing being built in solid rock? When I want to have a party that is too big for my house, I just find some other place to have it. Why don't the private doners object to wasting their money too? The Convention center averages an income of $27.27 per square foot. At 5% interest and 40 years. The same square footage could be obtained by simply renting it at the convention center. The present worth of the cost of renting would be, based on 365.25 days a year, $467.93 per square foot instead of $1369.08. Of course you would have to pay for parking.After building this room, are we going to have to pay more to put on the parties too?

By: dnewton on 12/31/69 at 6:00

No organization to stop waste can be effective if it is working in an environment of un skeptical Keynesian economics and moral relativity. As long as people believe it is all right for the government to lose money on a business venture like a sports stadium or a convention center and that the circulation of the money, preferably boirrowed, is more important than getting economic efficiency from it, then I think the legislature and even the comptroller of the treasury will be about as interested in reform as a bear is interested in using a bidet.

By: TharonChandler on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The only true way to prepare for War and for World Peace (as opposed to trying to build a big enough "Bunker" and trying to hold all the terrorist profiles at Guantanamo, indefinatetly) is to use shrewd, timely, and Honest Diplomacy (supported by the most limited aggression in world capitalism and cost effective military training at home), along with a Sustainable Economy at Home.At risk of the Mosad I must inform you that the US cannot support Isreals Expansionist agenda forever, any more than We should be able to Hold people without proper legal representation (like at Git-mo).World or International venture Capitalism (Imperialism) is the same as Fascism at Home. It consists of some cruel people with unfair monetary advantage abusing all those whom are less ruthless. "Defense Funding" is the most corrupt money used by crony politicoes, as is too obviously trickled down to cronies through departments that are "homeland defense" in name only. The US ruins as many lives at home as they do in War abroad, using such means to acheive political election control (as in prostitution and the crowding out of "honest" careers).

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What lies did the swiftboats reportedly tell? Me thinks the problem was that they had an opinion.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

To save us taxpayers the cost of transporting “Phat” Phil to and from his office, and to assure that he has the opportunity to appreciate in town living, perhaps we should relocate the Governors mansion closer to the Capitol building. I would have the state purchase that ugly apartment building; demolish it and build a new one.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

roger717, please, disclose your evidence and sources. If you have any, it will be more than John Kerry has offerred.

By: e3 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

C'mon dnewton! Check your math. The 19.2 mil is for the entire renovation project + the ballroom. In this article, Mr. Fitts said the ballrom protion is 4.8 mil + 3.86 for connection and site work. So if you take the money to be spent solely on the Ballroom portion, that's 4.8 mill/14,024, that's only $342 per square foot. That's significantly less than the $1369 you mention. Your math is about as good as TAG's. You've already been paying for the parties. You just didn't know it until now.