Dean questions legality of Dominy fairgrounds bill

Monday, November 8, 2010 at 10:00pm

Mayor Karl Dean, putting on his cap as the city’s former law director, questioned Monday the legality of Metro Councilman Duane Dominy’s proposed bill that seeks to preserve the Metro-owned fairgrounds.

At a press conference designed to highlight the economic potential of redeveloping the 117-acre fairgrounds property, Dean didn’t hide his true feelings about Dominy’s legislation, suggesting that it has “a lot of legal issues to it” and “many, many problems.”

“I’m no longer a practicing lawyer, but I think the language of the bill is contradictory,” Dean said, pointing out that the council already approved a capital spending plan that includes funds to turn parts of the property into a 40-acre park.

“I think [Dominy’s bill] would require us diverting funds from the operating budget into the fair,” he continued.

“The bill before the council is essentially an unfunded mandate. It says, ‘You can’t do anything unless you build another speedway or build another fairgrounds site. And we don’t care how much it costs. If you have to raise taxes to do that, do that.’

“Well, we’re not going to do that,” Dean said. “We’ve got to be responsible fiscally. We’re not going to put ourselves in a position where we have to raise taxes to have a state fair.”

Dominy’s bill, set to go before the council on a critical second of three votes next week, would essentially reassign the mission of Metro’s Board of Fair Commissioners. The fair board, as outlined in the legislation, would not be allowed to sell or lease the property until another site to hold the Tennessee State Fair is purchased.

A group of state tourism and agriculture leaders recently formed the Tennessee State Fair Association to try to land a new state fair in Davidson County.

Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper said he’s in the process of drafting a legal analysis of Dominy’s bill, which should be delivered to council members by Thursday. Cooper declined to comment on Dean’s comments until the analysis is finalized.

Asked for his thoughts on Dean’s legal questioning, Dominy pointed the finger back at Dean. Dominy said he asked the Metro Department of Law for a legal analysis of Dean’s fairgrounds actions more than one year ago, but hasn’t received it.

“To date,” Dominy said, “Metro legal has failed to provide a charter section, Metro ordinance, Metro resolution, memorandum of understanding or any other legal document supporting his actions.”

Dominy also took exception to Dean’s assertion that clearing 40 acres for a new park at the fairgrounds means that the property couldn’t retain expo center events or still accommodate an annual state fair.

“In no way does [the bill] prevent turning parts of the property into a park,” Dominy said.

Even if the fairgrounds bill did contradict the council’s approval of Dean’s capital spending plan, Dominy said it wouldn’t matter.

“When there is a contradiction between ordinances or bills, the most recent passed bill supersedes the previous,” Dominy said. “[Dean] should know that.”

Earlier in the press conference, Dean singled out — without identifying by names — other elected officials who have capitalized on the fairgrounds issue while running for another office.

Dominy, a Republican, was defeated last week in the District 59 state House race.

“There have been numerous reports over the last few weeks about people who are not happy about this decision,” Dean said, referring to his administration’s plans to relocate flea market and other expo center events to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch. “Whether it’s other elected officials using it as a platform to run for office or from [expo center] vendors from out of town.”

Presumably, Dean was referring to Dominy.

Councilman Michael Craddock, who supports the preservation of the fairgrounds, dismissed the notion that Dominy had hoped to use the fairgrounds issue as a way to catapult into office.

“I think that’s silly,” Craddock said. “Anybody who knows Duane Dominy knows he was concerned over the fairgrounds before he even started running for office. That’s just a smokescreen.”

“What about me?” Craddock said. “I’m concerned about the fairgrounds and I’m not running for office.”

At Monday’s media event, Dean was easily the most candid he’s been to date on the fairgrounds issue. In some ways, convincing the public that the fairgrounds property would be better off redeveloped has become one of Dean’s most difficult sales pitches since his inauguration three years ago.

Council members seem split on Dominy’s bill, and many observers are expecting a close vote next week.

When asked if he’s confident the council will defeat Dominy’s bill, Dean said, “Yeah, pretty much.”

Right after mayor’s office spokeswoman Janel Lacy ended the question-and-answer portion of Monday’s press conference, Dean jumped in to say one more thing before media members left. He again made his case for redeveloping the site, this time pointing to what he’s observed to be an inactive site.

“Six out of seven days, there is nothing going on out there,” Dean said of the fairgrounds property. 

37 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 11/9/10 at 5:00

I suggest that neither the Mayor nor Attorney Cooper have the
legal wherewithall to truly present anything other than a personal
and political opinion on this bill. Maybe this should be taken
before a Chancery Court to see if it's legal (Other than Judge
Haynes) bill or not?

By: tomw on 11/9/10 at 5:32

It seems strange to me that Mr. Dominy is so concerned about the fairgrounds property when he has a chance to increase visibility, profit and employment possibilities in his own area. Hickory Hollow needs a jump start to get things fired up again, and he is playing politics downtown.

By: tomw on 11/9/10 at 5:38

On the other hand, the Mayor has a tendency to bully his own agenda through. he has a vision that smacks of "Governor" . I think he is being less than honest in his "vision" for the city. Ballpark? got one... rebuild it for less than a downtown site would cost.
When looking for a new profitable development, throw a park in there to convince the people that this is for the cities good.

By: bfra on 11/9/10 at 6:17

Dean had to come up with something, "for the children" ran it's course, after the children never benifited from their claims. Get over yourself Dean, education needs attention more.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/9/10 at 7:05

i'm just happy that the dumpy, poorly used space will get improved. it's long, long overdue.

By: bfra on 11/9/10 at 7:41

Instead of Dean pumping all that money into a private owned property, why doesn't he use it to make the Fairgrounds, a state of the art venue?

By: anjnew on 11/9/10 at 8:24

I think mayor Dean needs to be more concerned about spending more on something more useful for the city than dumping money into a property in Hickory Hollow that we would have limited use for.

Or put the money into revitalizing the fairgrounds, something the city already owns and make it a profitable part of Nashville. There is no reason the fairgrounds should not be revamped and hold more venues there. We need and outdoor space to hold concerts, events, and etc. Moving to Hickory Hollow is a waste of time and money. The mall couldn't make it there why would anything else?

And why is Mayor Dean being such a bully about this? He really needs to step back from his personal issues about the fairgrounds and do whats best for the city,

By: budlight on 11/9/10 at 8:29

Well, we’re not going to do that,” Dean said. “We’ve got to be responsible fiscally. We’re not going to put ourselves in a position where we have to raise taxes to have a state fair.” a quote by Deanie boy

Yeah, we can't raise taxes unless this democrate has a special pet project HE wants to implement. He is a bully.

By: producer2 on 11/9/10 at 8:52

How do you "make" something profitable? Do you just wave a wand and say "be profitable?"

By: nashtnman on 11/9/10 at 8:54

Dean has no room to question anyone's legality. He is as crooked as they come. He is a liar and a thief. He lied about the convention center, he lied about the hotel deal and now he is lieing about the fairgrounds to personally gain from the deal. Vote this prick out.

By: govskeptic on 11/9/10 at 9:13

You make it profitable by paying attention to it and having a board
in place that is compentent to do so. This has been a living
example of how to get rid of something versus making it better.
It's been in disdain every since desegeration many yrs ago.
"The ruling class" takes one annual trip over there to "Christmas
Village and then walk away with "let us tear this down" attitude!

By: karlwithak on 11/9/10 at 10:21

Maybe one of the vendors of the new medical mart will build this million sq ft office to spend all that money they are making, oh wait. There aren't any vendors.
Maybe a eye surgeon, cause dean's "vision" is severely impaired.

By: Community-carl-... on 11/9/10 at 10:41

The vast majority of my acquaintances are happy with the fairgrounds just the way they are. The monthly flea market, state fair, and various other annual events draw vendors, shoppers, and other participants from all of middle Tennessee, who, in turn , utilize local hotels, resturants, and other shopping venues while they are visiting both from in and out of town....the existing fairgrounds are "part of the Nashville experience." Furthermore, they generate a lot of indirect revenue for the city of Nashville.

Unfortunately, Dean's elitist attitude prevents him from hearing the desires of the majority of ordinary Nashville citizens regarding the fairgrounds and its rich history. I would submit that a portion of the rental fees that Dean is proposing be spent at the Hickory Hollow location be used instead to upgrade and promote the present site rather than relocating it to Hickory Hollow. In the long run, it would prove to be much better stewardship of public funds.

Yes, there may be cow patties in and around the animal barns at the fairgrounds, but in my opinion, if Dean insists on being a bully and doing away with the present fairgrounds, he might as well be stepping into a cow patty of epic proportions.

By: GUARDIAN on 11/9/10 at 11:11

GUARDIAN- Don't tell me that Karl Dean is an OBUMMER and won't listen to the people. Get rid of him with the next election. Nashville should of elected Bob Clement a man of the people and the only democrat in Tennessee that I trust..

By: nashnative1 on 11/9/10 at 11:16

I say baloney to anyone that rants that the fairgrounds does not possess a history worth saving. I agree that our mayor is trying to ramrod his agenda through, making me think that under the table deals have already been made. It ticks me off that we have a mayor, a non-native Nashvillian, making decisions that put an historical site on the chopping block for what I believe are his personal gain.

There are ways to make the fairground property more profitable, that's what city planning is all about. Dean does not want to and refuses to explore those possibilities. The flea market will wither and die at the sterile Hickory Hollow site when the character and charm of what it has now is forever lost. As a city, we need to make sound decisions about what we care about when it comes to preserving the things that give us character and set us apart from other homogenous, gentrified places.

Would we take back Sulphur Dell if we could snap our fingers and do so, you're damn right we would! Does anyone remember how close we came to losing Union Station under the reign of Richard Fulton? That was a close call.

We need a city-wide referendum on this important issue. I'm confidant Dean's devious plan would be squashed in short order.

By: fair_minded on 11/9/10 at 12:53

Dean does not seem to understand that the election is over, and CM Dominy is *still* interested in the Fairgrounds, along with thousands of other Davidson County Residents.

And for an attorney and mayor, he seems to have a poor understanding of how government works. The city council may pass whatever legislation it wishes, and the mayor is legally bound to abide by it.

But back on the topic of finances for the Fairgrounds, what Dean seems to continue to overlook is that the property is worth in excess of $30 million, and the Fair Board has been given the authority by both the state legislature and the metro charter to mortgage the property when things get tough (or for any "fairgrounds purpose").

So with an effective Fair Board in place, one who is not determined to close down the Fairgrounds, financing is available to the Fairgrounds that does not include public money in any way. Surely they could come up with a loan for $5-10 million that would put them back on their feet with no taxpayer funds involved.

Although since Metro has never put a penny into the Fairgrounds, it would not be a bad deal if they gave it the same breaks they give to Centennial and other parks and golf courses, the convention center (the Fairgrounds brings in more cash than the convention center btw), the Preds, the Titians, etc. and put up a few million to revitalize the Fairgrounds. Dean seems to have a spare $18 million he's trying hard to spend-- there is where he can spend it instead of the Hickory Hollow Boondoggle (you know, be "responsible fiscally" instead of bankrolling something that no one wants and will probably die in that location).

By: karlwithak on 11/9/10 at 1:28

Has anyone calculated how much Metro has pulled out of the reserve funds in the last 10 years ?
I'd like to know that number, and where those funds went

By: ds on 11/9/10 at 1:34

THANK YOU MAYOR DEAN for trying to make this city a better place/community.
For all those that want to keep the fair/racetrack, I am sorry but IT IS NOT MAKING MONEY AND WILL COST TAXPAYERS! Do I need to paint you a picture?
What Mayor Dean proposes will benefit the vast majority of people who work and live in Nashville, (and pay taxes everyday).

By: NewYorker1 on 11/9/10 at 1:59

I hope they put a Neiman Marcus on the fairground site.

By: bfra on 11/9/10 at 2:16

If truth be known, Dean has probably made some unauthorized committments that he can't back out of.

By: karlwithak on 11/9/10 at 4:06

Ds if you paint that picture using facts, I'll swap sides and fight along side you.

You have 48 hours to compile the information, it must be correct or you lose. It's public information.

Post results on this thread. Show us exactly to the penny how much Metro has taken from the facility for the past 10 years as one calculation.

You want to make a point and help your cause. Here's your chance.
We'll be back to check the results.

By: NewYorker1 on 11/9/10 at 5:12

Actually, a Bloomingdales on the fairground site would be better.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/9/10 at 5:53

happy with the fairgrounds just the way they are???? you can't be serious. what a dump! many of the buildings barely meet codes. Nashville deserves better than keeping that dump around. fix it up already! and thank you to Mayor Dean for taking an interesting in developing and improving a much neglected area of town. it's about damn time!

By: fair_minded on 11/9/10 at 7:31

@karlwithak -- start reading here:

*where* the money goes is a good question once it hits the general fund, which it's never supposed to do... but at least on June 30, 2007 metro took $4,131,846.09 out of the Fairgrounds reserve fund and never put it back. So far, we have not been able to find out where that money went.

There are other instances, but the main way they have bled the fair's reserve fund was by overcharging the various fees that they charge the fair board (something that is not supposed to be done in the first place, according to the charter.).

The "depreciation fees" are one example of that. Metro’s own records say
this amount was $211,911.51 in 2008, but when Metro prepared the Board’s financial statements the amount shown was $432,527.06

Depreciation is not a cash expense, yet Metro has been counting it as one so that it makes any loss by the Fairgrounds appear larger. In some years in question, the ONLY loss has been a depreciation loss, not a cash one.

The income of the Fairgrounds has actually remained fairly constant over the last ten years-- it's the expenses, mostly the expenses charged by metro that have risen.

By: fair_minded on 11/9/10 at 7:39

@karlwithak. -- in looking closer, i see your challenge was to "ds" who's in opposition to the fairgrounds, so i take that you are in favor-- in that case, just use my previous post as a bit of information showing how there is "something rotten in Nashville" (sorry Shakespeare)

The mayor's plan, which "ds" supports will not only cost taxpayers, we'll lose the State Fair, the Fairgrounds, and all the events that take place there in the deal!

If taxpayers are putting out the money, they might as well put it in the Fairgrounds to return them to a profit-making status as a one-time fix up, not have to pay out for years and years.

For example, the mayor's Hickory Hollow Plan costs more per year than what he claims the Fairgrounds loses, and includes the eventual purchase of the building at almost twice what's it is currently on the market for!

So it's actually cheaper to fix up the Fairgrounds than it would be to move.

By: MAmom on 11/9/10 at 8:32

City fathers who created the Fairgrounds intended for it to be available for Nashvillians to use for recreation (e.g.: State Fair, flea market, shows, raceway, etc.).

Isn't converting the Fairgrounds property into a "commercial development" subverting the intent of the originators?

Are there any Nashville lawyers out there who can look into the founding of the Fairgrounds to see whether the property is "restricted" in any way? And see if Karl Dean's plans are LEGAL...


Thanks to those looking into the financials.

By: fair_minded on 11/9/10 at 8:53

@MAmom - you should read this too

it's written by the attorney for the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group.

And no, what the mayor is doing/proposing is not legal under both state legislation and the metro charter.

By: MAmom on 11/9/10 at 9:04

You can tell Karl Dean doesn't know much about the Fairgrounds by his outburst at the end of the press conference: “Six out of seven days, there is nothing going on out there.”

Another misrepresentation by Karl Dean.

In order for the flea market and other large events to be ready BY Friday - many vendors are setting up Thursday & even Wednesday. A lot of buying and selling begins before the weekend starts. So at least on flea market weekends the Fairgrounds are used Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

By: bornatvandy on 11/9/10 at 9:39

I am all for having a great city. I was born and raised here. It seems that there are many good options for keeping the fairgrounds. The track can be used like it was in the 70's as a great concert venue and racing. The seating could be updated and expanded. This place means so much to many Nashvillians. I grew up going to Fair Park with my grandmother and the memories will live with me forever. It is my understanding the land was left to the city by a family that asked it be kept in perpetuity as fairgrounds. That may well be the modern day equivalent of the Beaman family donation of land for use as a park/land trust. How would they feel if they knew in 50-75 years that the land would be taken to be used for high rise buildings or a parking lot? There are places in this city worthy of preserving. This is one of those places. It may not be for everyone, but it is important for many Nashville citizens. I think this is worthy of saving and letting the citizens decide. It's been there over 100 years, how many places like that still exist here?

By: MAmom on 11/9/10 at 10:39

Time is short... but there are still several things we can do to fight Karl Dean's fairgrounds plan:

1) Call or email your metro council member. Their names and contact information are on the Metro website.

2) Talk to people you know about Karl Dean's Fairground schemes:
- the millions in debt he plans to incur for Nashville to lease/buy HH spaces,
- how his plan will kill or chase many beloved events out of Nashville,
-how sneaky and manipulative Karl Dean has been throughout this "discussion",
-how this plan will hurt the smallest businessmen in the area (flea mkt vendors),
-how his plan effectively steals the Fairgrounds from the regular people of Nashville.
-how he has ignored the thousands who have signed petitions to save the fairgrounds.

The next public meeting is scheduled for November 16. THE COUNCIL IS SUPPOSED TO VOTE ON THE FAIRGROUNDS AT THAT TIME.

Be seen and heard. PLEASE attend the November 16 Council meeting.

By: ds on 11/9/10 at 11:11

Karl, I don't have any facts, but I try to use common sense. Seriously, do you think that the stuff there now is generating alot of tax revenue? Drive to the gulch or centennial park and see how nice it is. This could be the fairgrounds. If you like the stuff that is there now then I am sorry but most people want other things and that's just the way it goes. My dad likes country music and I don't. And I am sure that some people are always going to be against change and I guess that is natural. If it is not developed now, then it will be eventually. And the reason why no money is being put into it to fix-up the state fair is simply because whoever puts the money down will not see a return on their investment. OK, the flea market is kind of cool, (even though I haven't been there in years), but there is still a million other things I would rather see the opportunity to do there.
Have a nice day.

By: karlwithak on 11/10/10 at 5:46

DS, no facts ?????

Just going by something you lack isn't enough.

Some thought dean had common sense too, We see now why you follow.

I'll fight even harder against you know, cause WE do have the facts.

Hows the occupancy rates there in the gulch ?


By: NewYorker1 on 11/10/10 at 1:45

A Bergdorf Goodman's would be nice on the fairgrounds too.

By: fair_minded on 11/10/10 at 2:06

@ds - you think Centennial Park generates revenue? It costs the taxpayers *millions* each year for the upkeep of that park-- but that's ok... it's in an upscale part of town... if they put an equal amount of dollars into the Fairgrounds, it would be a showplace!

and the gulch? it's nothing but commercial development-- Metro should not have been bankrolling that in the first place-- but as has already been pointed out, check the occupancy rates there.

check out here and see what the Fairgrounds *could* be with some TLC and proper management!

@newyorker - put your "Bergies" at Hickory Hollow too... it would help them out to have solid, retail businesses.... not government removing property from the tax rolls on a whim!


By: NewYorker1 on 11/10/10 at 4:44

Why would anybody want to keep the fairgrounds the way it is now. It's scary over there. The area looks like one would be stabbed 10 times in the chest and neck. That area needs a makeover. Out with the old and in with the new and expensive so I can shop honey.

By: bornatvandy on 11/10/10 at 10:26

New Yorker ...this town is NOT big enough for you...I bet you miss New York

By: MAmom on 11/10/10 at 10:29

Maybe the Fairgrounds don't appeal to the pretentious - but to most regular people the Fairgrounds are special. It's rustic and old-fashioned - houses many interesting events and activities - and feels like old Tennessee. With good management, maintenance and marketing the Fairgrounds would be a tremendous asset for the area.

Dean is a thief. What he wants to do with the Fairgrounds violates the spirit of what those who created the property intended.

City fathers intended for the land to be set aside for the people of Tennessee for State Fair entertainment activities. Over time it evolved to house many other entertainment events. The property was not acquired to benefit a sneaky, thieving future Mayor - so he could sell it to the highest bidder.

1. Call and let your Council representative know you want the Fairgrounds protected!
2. Attend the next Council meeting!
3. Be noticed - show the Council and Dean that you care about the Fairgrounds.