As the Metro Council ponders whether to tear down the city’s fairgrounds racetrack, members may have to make their decision without definitively knowing how much its demolition would cost.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said this week there is no cost estimate on the demolition of the property’s racetrack, a course of action that is outlined in a bill nine council members are co-sponsoring. The bill, set for a crucial second of three votes on Jan. 18, would also retain the property’s expo center and annual state fair for at least one more year.
Riebeling has signed off on the availability of funds for the ordinance.
“I’m guessing that it’s in the half-million-dollar range,” Riebeling said, referring to the track’s demolition. “That’s a pure guess.”
Though the demolition-cost still hasn’t been determined, Riebeling said funding would come out of $2 million already devoted to a 40-acre park on the property, part of Mayor Karl Dean’s capital spending plan the council approved in September.
Metro sent out a request for proposals in December seeking an architectural firm to begin the design and construction process of the park, which is slated for the property’s floodplain. Proposals are due Friday, Jan. 14., with their evaluation to take place Jan. 28.
“The whole process would start with hiring a consultant to do a master plan for the park,” Riebeling said. “And as part of that, the consultant would work on the various features of the park including getting the land ready. And if the council resolution passes, one of those things would be the removal of the racetrack.”
But some council members are questioning the wisdom of voting on an ordinance that still lacks a clear cost association.
“No council member should vote on a bill exposing the taxpayer without knowing a reasonable cost estimate for doing so,” Councilman Jamie Hollin said. “We don’t do that. We’re not in the guessing game.”
Steve Cline, owner of Nashville-based Demo Plus Inc., said he’s neutral in the ongoing fairgrounds debate. He stressed that he hasn’t thoroughly evaluated the cost to raze the racetrack, but tentatively placed its demolition cost between $300,000 and $500,000.
“It all depends what the architects want to do [with the property],” Cline said.
Council Budget and Finance chair Megan Barry, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bill is more about “making the decision to not have racing in the neighborhood” and less about fairgrounds infrastructure itself. She said the Metro Department of Finance would provide cost figures when they are needed.
But Councilwoman Emily Evans, who has been critical of Dean and his administration’s handling of the fairgrounds issue, said a demolition cost estimate would be “important information” for the council to review.
“Given the way the administration has presented the dire financial condition of the fair board, a fact which I disagree with, I think that it would be important for us to have information about the demolition, particularly the cost,” Evans said.
“Of course, the only way to get that information is to do an RFP and have a proper competitive process to determine those costs,” she added.
Evans, who like all council members voted for the mayor’s capital spending plan, also took exception with using funds from the park’s $2 million price tag to raze the track.
“We’ve approved money for a park,” Evans said. “There is no mention in the capital spending plan of demolition of racetracks. It was my understanding at the time the capital budget passed that the park was compatible with existing uses on the site.”