Fairgrounds site could spur $2.5B in economic impact, chamber says

Monday, November 8, 2010 at 3:29pm

Giving a ringing endorsement of Mayor Karl Dean’s plans to redevelop the Metro-owned fairgrounds, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released Monday a report that claims redeveloping the site to suit a corporate entity could generate 6,500 jobs and $2.5 billion in economic impact.

The timing of the report –– coincidentally or not –– comes eight days before Metro Councilman Duane Dominy’s bill to preserve the 117-acre Metro-owned fairgrounds goes before the Metro Council on the second of three votes. Council members seem split on the bill and a close vote is expected.

In his most candid remarks on the fairgrounds debate to date, Dean on Monday questioned the legality of Dominy’s legislation and even suggested Dominy –– without identifying by name –– used the issue “as a platform to run for office.” Dominy, who represents council District 28 and could not immediately be reached for comment, lost his election bid last week for the District 59 state House seat.

At one time conspicuously reluctant to talk about the controversial mixed-use development known as May Town Center, Dean singled out the discourse surrounding the now-defunct proposal as a reason why the fairgrounds should be redeveloped.

“When folks talked about May Town,” Dean said, “the debate became about how we have to have an area where we can develop and expand our tax-base in order for our city to succeed. You can’t sit back and say, ‘We’re never going to do anything, anywhere in all of Davidson County.’”

But Councilman Michael Craddock, who supports the preservation of the fairgrounds, questioned the relationship between Dean and the chamber. When contacted by The City Paper, Craddock pulled out Dean’s former campaign slogan, “It’s all connected.”

“I’m sure that someone within the administration has gone and asked the chamber to make that statement,” said Craddock, who represents District 4.

“The chamber is typically made up of people who do not go to the flea market, of people who do not go to [auto] races, or events at the fairgrounds,” Craddock said. “They genuinely don’t have a clue what happens out there. The poor people and the blue-collar people of this town are the ones who frequent the fairgrounds.”

As The City Paper previously reported, the chamber has showcased the fairgrounds property to corporations as a relocation or expansion possibility for more than one year. Chamber President and CEO Ralph Schulz on Monday said the chamber has talked with “four or five” companies about the site, adding that the property’s location is ideal for a mixed-used development that could contain white-collar office space.

“We believe that the former fairgrounds property offers an ideal and development-ready site,” Schulz said. “The site is located about two miles from the urban center along the I-65 corridor, and that makes it extremely attractive for corporate relocations and expansions.”

Working in conjunction with the chamber, Nashville-based architecture firm Gresham, Smith and Partners has developed schematic designs for a project that would include 1 million square feet of Class A office space. The net result, according to Schulz, would be approximately 6,500 new jobs, $200 million in capital investments and $2.5 billion in economic impact. Schulz stressed that the described project represents only one possible scenario.

Conversely, Schulz said, “The opportunity cost of not redeveloping the fairgrounds site is large.”

“Prosperity for this region is at stake,” Schulz said, adding that the chamber’s report would be outlined in a letter to be sent to council members.

Schulz indicated that companies are reluctant to put forth a formal proposal for the site because of the ongoing political battle behind the fairgrounds fight, and because the site hasn’t been physically cleared for development purposes.

“In most cases, companies won’t commit to a site until it’s developmentally ready,” Schulz said. “At the former fairgrounds site, several companies have expressed an interest, but none want to commit until the site is ready for development.”

Dean called the chamber’s findings “impressive.”

“This is how you grow a city’s tax base,” Dean said. “In just property taxes alone, 1 million square feet of office space would generate about $1.5 million a year. That’s $1.5 million more a year that we can use for things like schools, police, parks and libraries. The alternative is to begin using property tax money to support the existing events on the sites, because the facts are that the fair has been losing money for the last eight years.”

Under Dean’s plans, flea market and other events currently held at the fairgrounds’ expo center are to be relocated to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch. A bill outlining three separate leases for the site is to go before the council on the first of three votes later this month. Meanwhile, the council approved plans last month to create a 40-acre park within the floodplain of the fairgrounds property.

Citing a report conducted in 2007 by Minnesota-based Markin Consulting, Dean said the fairgrounds is “too hilly and too small” to hold an annual state fair, and pointed out that surrounding neighborhood groups have advocated that the site be redeveloped. A group called the Tennessee State Fair Association recently formed to find a new location for a state fair in Davidson County.

“The bottom line is some people will ultimately never be happy with this move, but this is a move that will be good for the events that take place at the fairgrounds,” Dean said. “It will also help out Hickory Hollow Mall.” 

14 Comments on this post:

By: racer84 on 11/8/10 at 3:08

That's some pretty scary thoughts to think a Mayor would be this crooked.

If HCA moves 10 miles to the Fairgrounds site, Exactly how do they get 6,500 new jobs ?

I guess Chamber President and CEO Ralph Schulz's soul can be bought pretty cheaply.

By: PKVol on 11/8/10 at 3:44

I don't think the 'if we build it, they will come' idea works for this type of development. There are office parks around the airport and other parts of the city that are nearly empty right now. If we do build it, we'll have to incentivize the property to get them to go there, so there goes the property tax revenue. Besides, $1.5 million is pretty small potatoes as it relates to the property tax revenues.

Let's get what is built filled up first, create a demand for this property to be developed for other purposes and in the mean time, keep what we've got going there, save the $1.8 million in lease payments for Hickory Hollow and we'll be ahead of the game financially when the time comes to develop this property.

By: HCPforme on 11/8/10 at 4:54

The business climate in this country has radically changed but Dean and Co. don't seem to have picked up on it. We heard glowing reports on putting in a Medical Mart in the current convention center - going nowhere fast. The new convention center was going to create jobs, the gulch was the next big thing. Remember "Signature Tower"? The Landport? Dell was paid incentives too, and what happened?

Meanwhile the Chamber of Commerce pulls some numbers out of the air, and folks are supposed to be impressed? I find it humorous the site is not suitable for a fairgrounds (100 year history of doing so not withstanding). I would really like to know what Dean has against the fairgrounds. Did some carnival worker make fun of him as a kid or what? Why not improve the Charlotte corridor if you want to make a statement, or how about Murfreesboro road?

By: nashtnman on 11/8/10 at 5:53

This is bullshit. I wonder how many local politicians are pocketing money off this deal? For sure Dean is, the crooked SOB. You can't increase the tax base if you give away the farm to get them in here. I would rather my property tax dollars go to support the fairgrounds than dumbass city officials like we have now. I thought elections would help but I guess the general public is a majority of ignorant drones to be fleeced by politicians with no morals.

By: capt4chris on 11/9/10 at 2:14

Actually, HCPforme, Nashville just got national attention for the upcoming Trade Center. I received the article in the newsletter from ZDNet today. The website is smartplanet and the article is titled: "Nashville to build world’s largest medical trade center". It sounds like it's going to be successful.

Also the convention center HAS created construction jobs and we're already booking conventions because of it.

I'm always curious how the projections come to fruition, if at all. But those are a few facts that I've seen and wanted to share.

By: karlwithak on 11/9/10 at 8:25

Maybe you should look again, Did you not see where the trade center is now in jeapordy ?
No space rented, NONE, zero, zilch...nadda ?
Those are facts

The National attention is going to be LAUGHTER at the fools who voted this in !

By: gohomenow on 11/9/10 at 10:08

Get this carpet bagging yankee out of town !
Since he's been here my property tax has gone up, crime has risen, rush hour has become a test of survival skills, and there is a big hole in the ground downtown.
Karl Ding - GO HOME NOW !

By: localboy on 11/9/10 at 11:00

"“Prosperity for this region is at stake,” Schulz said, adding that the chamber’s report would be outlined in a letter to be sent to council members." Such a statement makes sense if in reference to the neighborhood surrounding the fairgrounds; if it's in reference to Davidson County, it's pure hyperbole and a bit hysterical in nature.

By: NewYorker1 on 11/9/10 at 11:09

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

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 11/9/10 at 12:29

Here's the test people, go to Nash.gov and write your councilperson, and then copy to all the council what your thoughts are. If enough pressure is put on the council this catastrophe will be stillborn. If you don't then don't complain when it's gone the way of Opryland.

By: fair_minded on 11/9/10 at 1:17

To use Dean's own tactic here, *who* was the economist who did this study?? don't tell us it was done by the chamber or an architectural firm... *who* was the professional economist and what method did he use to derive those figures?

He is also misquoting the Markin Study-- Markin *never* said that the property was '“too hilly and too small” to hold an annual state fair'.... nor did Markin *ever* recommend closing the Fair and Fairgrounds as is often said. Markin said that the topography worked against it, but that the Fair and Fairgrounds were still viable. See the actual Markin Report here: http://fairgroundsheritage.org/index.php?p=mr

of course there is one other small item-- that's a lot of effort for only a $1.5 million sales tax income-- the flea market brings in more than that now....

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

Thanks for the tip. I'll write my councilperson and push for a Neiman Marcus on the fairground site. SHOPPING WEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

By: fair_minded on 11/9/10 at 8:58

@NewYorker1 - they should put your Bloomies or Neimans at Hickory Hollow mall- if the mayor and his economic development office were doing their job, that's what they'd be doing instead of trying to grab the fairgrounds for some dream....

By: govskeptic on 11/10/10 at 9:30

So why does closing down the Fairgrounds obligate the city
to move anything anywhere. The City doesn't owe any group
or organization a place of business. While I'm against closing
the fairgrounds, I'm even more opposed to all this expenditure
to "attempt" to save a failing Mall w/taxpayer funds. There's
an existing fairly new Library less than 1/2 mile from Hickory
Hollow, and if it's Library Archives that is going out there,
that will only encourage less use not more. Garbage in
garbage out with the mall venture!