Mayor’s fairgrounds deal faces unexpected public hearing

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 1:13am

Mayor Karl Dean’s plans to redevelop the city’s 117-acre fairgrounds were on trial Tuesday night, as dozens of citizens spoke up against the mayor’s proposal to turn parts of Hickory Hollow Mall into a new expo center.

In a rare procedural move for an ordinance on first reading, the council voted by a 31-6 margin to hold a impromptu public hearing on a Dean administration-endorsed bill that outlines a set of leases that, if approved, would allow the former Dillard’s building at the Antioch-based mall to house flea market and other events currently held at the fairgrounds. Dean has indicated he hopes to bring a mixed-use development to the fairgrounds property, perhaps anchored by corporate office space.

With fairgrounds preservationists already in full force to attend a demonstration prior to the council meeting, about 40 citizens took the microphone. Some took exception to the financing behind the move. Others questioned whether Antioch is an appropriate area for an expo center or if the former Dillard’s building is structurally sufficient. All urged council members to reconsider signing off on Dean’s plans.

“I was one of the 25 [expo center] vendors that visited the proposed site,” said Dick Dickerson, a resident of the Donelson-Hermitage area. “I found it totally inadequate.”

Pleas came after only four Nashvillians spoke in favor of the leases. Neighbors of the fairgrounds and others later questioned the decision to hold the hearing, correctly pointing out that it had not been publicized. If given adequate notice, they said, more people would have been present to speak in favor of the Hickory Hollow leases.

Ultimately, the Hickory Hollow ordinance cleared the council’s first of three separate votes by a 32-7 vote margin. Its approval can be chalked up as only a minor victory for Dean and his administration — passing a bill on first reading is usually a given.

Councilman Sam Coleman, who represents the Hickory Hollow area, said he plans to divide the Hickory Hollow bill into three separate ordinances, each detailing a separate lease. The move would come before the bill goes before the council on the second of three votes in December.

“This will allow the public and each council member to go through each lease [and] make sure we clean it up to make it suitable for your adoption,” Coleman told the council.

Presumably, one bill would outline a lease to turn parts of the mall’s former JCPenney into a regional community center, library, Metro Archives center, public health center and multi-acre park. A second bill would allow the leasing of interior mall space to the Metro Health Department. The setup would leave a third bill — the most volatile and susceptible to scrutiny ­­— detailing the lease for the creation of the expo center.

After an approximately 90-minute hearing, the council took up Councilman Duane Dominy’s competing bill that seeks to thwart Dean’s plans by preserving the Metro-owned fairgrounds.

In the end, the council followed Dominy’s request to defer voting on the bill indefinitely. The decision came after a bit of drama.

Councilman Greg Adkins, known as a loyalist to Dean and his administration, offered a tabling motion that would have circumvented Dominy’s request and allowed the council to vote on the ordinance. Adkins’ motion failed by a narrow 19-18 vote.

Several observers, including council members, had speculated the mayor’s office had hoped to kill Dominy’s bill permanently on Tuesday night. The council’s deferral means the bill isn’t dead.

Following the council meeting, Dominy told The City Paper he plans to rectify some legal and technical concerns cited by council attorney Jon Cooper. He said he may opt to resurrect the bill in the near future.

“My efforts have been to provide opportunity for [the council] and to let the people have an input in this process,” Dominy said.   

39 Comments on this post:

By: MAmom on 11/17/10 at 12:32

At tonight's Council meeting the public was allowed to speak. Four people spoke in favor of the CBL leases and "redevelopment". THEN APPROXIMATELY 30 TO 40 PEOPLE spoke out AGAINST the CBL leases & the mayors plans. Some of these were Fairground supporters, flea market vendors, event organizers, race supporters, opponents to Dean's HH plans, lease opponents, etc.

I suspect Dean will do his best to try to prevent THAT from happening again. Watch for shenanigans by Dean's cronies at the next meeting.

An interesting point: one Councilman said something like he was offended by the departure from normal procedures. Said that in a Democracy ... people had to follow the rules... and letting the public speak was evidently offensive to him. I was told this representative - who doesn't want the public to talk - represents the Paragon Mills area.

One Fairgrounds supporter was a former member of the Fair Board, said that at the time he worked with the Fairgrounds there were over 700 "activity days" (i think that was the term) - where multiple events occurred at the same time in different buildings. The Fairgrounds were so busy they had to turn away business. The Fair had good financials back then, too.

That was then. Now the Fair Board (led by Weaver) chases away business & runs up expenses.

By: fair_minded on 11/17/10 at 2:50

Well it was a great meeting! citizens were out in force and left no doubt what they wanted. Some speakers made the point that council members who had any future political plans should support the Fairgrounds if they don't already. And one good thing about it is that it was a wide spectrum of citizens opposed to it for different reasons-- whether they were Antioch residents who realize that the Mayor is trying to steam-roll over them while ignoring their wishes completely, or race fans, or flea market fans or vendors, expo users, or state fair supporters, etc.

And they were hot about Dean threatening to raise property taxes if he doesn't get his way! So now he's managed to PO a bunch of citizens across a wide spectrum of the county-- he's working real hard to be a one-term mayor! As one person put it, if the next election is between Dean and his dog, the dog gets the vote!

People were also incensed to learn that the Fair Board Chairman is a lobbyist for Hickory Hollow's owners. Of course he claims that he's not personally worked on their account since the HH business came up-- but just *how* many co-incidences does he think the public can put up with? First, it should raise some eyebrows just the fact that he's a lobbyist for real estate developers and chairs the Fair Board at a time when they're discussion selling off the fairgrounds... and then we find out his firm represents one of the developers who submitted a proposal for redevelopment of the property... he claimed to have "recused" himself, but he was still taking part in discussions, just not voting.... and now we find out he represents the HH owners... are we to believe that he has not been consulted by any metro office in regards to the Hickory Hollow move?? Fair Board employees certainly have!

And then we had Rich Reibling, Dean's financial "wizard" who was not only unable to explain how it was economical to spend more money on the move than what he claimed the fairgrounds is losing, but he was also unable to explain that why he, as financial director, approved "negative" budgets for the fairgrounds ever since he's held that position. That is, he would ok a budget that was for more than projected income, thus engineering losses. This was not ever done before he came into power. Usually, the fairgrounds (or any other business) makes a budget that's within their income, and cuts back expenses to fit. However, the expenses for the fairgrounds have risen significantly the past three years with no apparent effort to reduce spending. Of course Reibling has been an advocate of turning the property over to private developers ever since he himself was on the fair board. I guess he saw some sort of opportunity there.

Of course those four folks who are in favor of development of the fairgrounds (most of whom are in the real estate business) were crying-- but it's the same four people speaking for their side at ALL the meetings! They had the same opportunity as everyone else to get supporters out for tonight's meeting-- *nobody* was aware that it would be a public meeting. These are also the same crew who replies to newspaper posts as well... one who's lived in that neighborhood for 4 years, another who's lived there for only 2. They seem to have a hard time realizing that they're outnumbered about 25 to 1 at *every* public meeting and that the majority of the public disagrees with them!

Several council members stated privately that they are getting more mail/email on this than they did on the convention center controversy. One, said he's getting over 200 emails a day in support of the fairgrounds. And all say that the mail is not only running about 4:1 in favor of retaining the fair and the fairgrounds, they all seem to be *individual* letters, not form letters passed out to be mailed!

Perhaps it's time for the mayor and metro council to realize that the 35,000-40,000 Davidson County residents who have signed petitions to retain the fairgrounds are just the tip of the iceberg!

Please join the groundswell and support the fairgrounds-- oppose the Hickory Hollow fiasco. Write your council member!

By: govskeptic on 11/17/10 at 4:55

Odd that an attorney/lobbyist was ever even appointed to the
Fair Board unless, of course, he was there to take the Board
in the direction of shutting the place down as is now being
done! The Mayor's threat on property tax increases if this is
not approved should offend ever property tax payer in the county!
It's like firing teacher's, policeman, and fireman if you don't give
us more money! The entire Hickory Hollow proposal is not in
the best interest of the county, nor what government should be
involved in. Surely the council will recognize that and soon!

By: Hotshoe17 on 11/17/10 at 7:07

Stan H.
Wonder just how Karl Dean will benefit if he gets his way destroying the Fairgrounds?
When is the next election for Mayor? Not soon enough.
Davidson County needs a simple vote from the people on whether to improve and keep the current Fairgrounds Property or to move the Activities to the Hickory Hollow area. How simple is that?
Hopefully, there will be no poll tampering and Dean will see how the people of Davidson County really feel.
How many plaques can Dean get his name on before he leaves office?
Let's support the Fairgrounds!!!

By: karlwithak on 11/17/10 at 7:38

CBL Properties with Metro Taxpayers as it's customer base felt so little about those same people that keep them in business that they structured this "DEAL" in an underhanded, and obscene amount of profits for themselves.
The politicians we can show how we feel at the polls next election.
To CBL Properties - It's almost the biggest shopping period of the year and I promise we are going to spread the word of your misdeeds. I and no one I know will be shopping at any facilities that have anything to do with CBL Properties !

Pull the plug on this entire fiasco if you want to save face, but you're company jumped into bed with some real snakes. You just got bit, and it's poisonous.

By: budlight on 11/17/10 at 7:49

budlight on 11/17/10 at 7:45
The anti-Fairgrounds group has dug up information on James Weaver. They are diligent at digging up dirt.

HOWEVER, since they are bombarding everyone with anti-fairgrounds e-mail, I have requested several times for THEM to identify WHO THEY are. They have refused telling me that "Due to your non constructive emails".

So my e-mails asking them for THEIR identity is "non constructive"? And they are a secretative force? Hmmmmm? Wonder if it's Obama and his transparency poliicy iinfecting our city and these Anti-Fairground warriors?

Who are you? Identify yourselves. Or shut up.

By: gohomenow on 11/17/10 at 7:51

We the people got to vote on the Titans coming to town, why aren't we given the same opportunity on this controversial issue ?
My property taxes have already gone up once since Dean has been in office, now he is threatening us with it again ???

By: MAmom on 11/17/10 at 8:08

mr budlight,

I receive emails - because I asked to. I signed the petition to Save-the-Fairgrounds & gave them my email address.

Your motive is different, but did you sign so you would get their emails, too?

By: girliegirl on 11/17/10 at 8:10

Hey Sid. I was watching...nothing on TV, so why not, right? It was funny to watch. Hubby noted that nearly everyone speaking FOR the FGs was wearing a tee shirt. (just an observation) I met Dick Dickerson years ago. He's an avid Chihuahua fan, so it's hard to get too mad at him. LOL But, sadly, all the positive things said, yet they missed the obvious....those of us with any real income won't go to the Fairgrounds because, frankly, that's the spookiest section of the entire city. Duh! So I tote my 5 children to the Wilson and Williamson County fairs each year. And all my "junk" shopping can be done on eBay w/o risking my safety. :-)

By: bfra on 11/17/10 at 8:26

Well la-de-da girlie, I am sure there are many people that go to the Fairgrounds, with incomes, that would make yours look like a pauper. As you stated, you can't walk or find a parking place, what can you do?

By: Community-carl-... on 11/17/10 at 8:32

It has become clear that Mayor karl Dean, Rich Riebeling, and their well-connected and greedy business cronies have been planning and orchestrating the demise of the Fairgrounds for a long time while engineering a financial salvation for stakeholders of the failing Hickory Hollow Mall at the expense of us taxpayers.

I am appalled that the majority of the Metro Council seems to be ignoring the obvious will of the vast majority of Nashville citizens by supporting the mayor's course of action. Clearly, most of the Metro Council members feel more accountable to the mayor than they do to the citizens who elected them. THIS IS NOT THE WAY IIT'S SUPPOSED TO BE IN A DEMOCRACY.

Like the Metro Community and Adult Education program, another jewel in Metro's crown that has been destroyed during the Dean administration, the Fairgrounds and in particular, its diverse host of activities, is being set up for failure and demise.

I I am tired of being railroaded by Karl Dean....the only interests that the man sincerely represents are those of the rich, elite, and well-connected. Us ordinary citizens are being deceived, manipulated, will eventually be finacially plundered with iincreased taxes to pay for his ill-advised projects.

I am one person who can hardly wait for the next election.

By: karlwithak on 11/17/10 at 8:57

By: girliegirl on 11/17/10 at 8:10
Hey Sid. I was watching...nothing on TV, so why not, right? It was funny to watch. Hubby noted that nearly everyone speaking FOR the FGs was wearing a tee shirt. (just an observation)

And yet, everyone of them has more class than you.

I'm pretty sure the show will be reran and you will notice that Girlie girl wouldn't know the truth if it slapped her in the face, cause several were wearing suits and ties.

By: localboy on 11/17/10 at 9:01

"I and no one I know will be shopping at any facilities that have anything to do with CBL Properties !"
Outside of Opry Mills, doesn't CBL own or manage the remaining major malls?
Thankfully there's always the Internet...

By: gdiafante on 11/17/10 at 9:06

Girlie's right. The fairgrounds are a dump.

By: karlwithak on 11/17/10 at 9:08

By: localboy on 11/17/10 at 9:01
"I and no one I know will be shopping at any facilities that have anything to do with CBL Properties !"
Outside of Opry Mills, doesn't CBL own or manage the remaining major malls?
Thankfully there's always the Internet...

They don't own Nashville West, and that's where I'll shop.

By: Community-carl-... on 11/17/10 at 9:17

I take issue with anyone who calls the Fairgrounds a "dump." It is what it's supposed to be: An adequate venue for a wide variety of activities enjoyed by tens of thousands of participants. Yes, it is rustic and historic, but that is part of its charm.
Anyone who steps in a cow patty while attending the state fair is suffering from the "stuck-up nose" syndrome and needs to get off their high horse.

By: JeffF on 11/17/10 at 9:19

CBL owns Cool Springs and Rivergate as well as Hickory Hollow.

By: pswindle on 11/17/10 at 9:33

Where is Dean getting the money to sink into his pet projects?

By: karlwithak on 11/17/10 at 10:54

If dean has CBL stock in his portfolio, isn't that public record ?

Need to check Varney's financials, Weavers and everyone else who served on the fair board. I'm sure they will be looking into details of the Medical Mart, The convention center, The omni...list goes on folks.

Dean really stepped on his wanker when he stated about the people who frequent the fairgrounds as "Those people can't talk to me on my level". I guess he's about to be introduced to some friends who can.


By: airvols on 11/17/10 at 11:03

To be fair about last nights meeting the KEEP the Fairgrounds group had their people there knew they would be procedures introduced to speak to the council. The DUMP the Fairgounds group did not know that was happening and will have their people at the next public hearing. The vote was 31-6 this puppy is going to be approved and we can finally use the grounds for something other than a side business for vendors at the taxpayers expense. Sorry if your on the loosing side, but the city is trying provide you a new space, it's not like anything is closing.

By: karlwithak on 11/17/10 at 11:30

Airvols- There will be no more public discussion.

Ya'll looked as foolish as you do with your online comments. Look around you, Ya'll are dead in the water.

By: jojo15 on 11/17/10 at 12:04

The fairgrounds ARE a dump! There's really no denying this! The fairboard didn't keep them looking nice and now they are losing them. It's their own faults. The state fair deserves a bigger, better location and the current location can be so much more than it is.

Last night's impromptu meeting was a low blow. People who want to see the fair and racetracks moved will be at the next meeting!

By: Community-carl-... on 11/17/10 at 12:36

Don't kid yourself, jojo15.

The condition of the Fairgrounds at this point in time has been manipulated by the Dean administration and his puppets on the Fairboard in order to bolster the case to close the Fairgrounds......The plan was set in motion at least a couple of years ago to portray the Fairgrounds in the worst possibe light, and the Dean administration is using every device possible to persuade the citizens to go along with his ill-advised plans that are at odds with the will of the majority of the citizens of Nashville. The present Fairgounds can be cleaned up, upgraded, and have the very real potential to generate more direct AND indirect revenue for Nashville, at far less cost to the taxpayers, than Dean's plan for Hickory Hollow Mall would cost.

I take issue with Dean's plan to use public funds to prop-up and bail-out the stake holders of the failing PRIVATE CBL enterprise (Hickory Hollow Mall).

By: jojo15 on 11/17/10 at 2:09

Community Carl,
SO NOT TRUE! I moved into the neighborhood almost 4 years ago and I still remember my first time at the fairgrounds. I looked around then and said "WHAT A DUMP! WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE? THEY NEED TO CLEAN THIS UP!!" Dean didn't take office until September do you explain the trash pile I saw when I went to the fair during the summer of 2007.

Yep, that's the fair board's fault....not Deans.

The majority of Nashville and the state of Tennessee wants a REAL fair. You can't have that in the middle of a city.

By: bfra on 11/17/10 at 2:31

jojo - Who do you think runs the fair board, behind closed doors?

Why should taxpayers money be bailing out private owned HH, instead of spending it on the Fairgrounds that we already own. Can't you see the writing on the wall and who will profit from these dealings?

By: fair_minded on 11/17/10 at 2:40

jojo - said: "The majority of Nashville and the state of Tennessee wants a REAL fair. You can't have that in the middle of a city."

Gee.. i guess we better tell the people at the state fairs in Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin ( just to name a few) that their highly successful fairs held at their traditional fairgrounds in downtown areas are not REAL!

As demonstrated last night, and by the thousands and thousands of citizens who have signed petitions in favor of the fairgrounds, the majority of Nashville and the state of Tennessee want their state Fair to stay just where it is!

By: TITAN1 on 11/17/10 at 2:43

jojo, did you check out the neighborhood before you moved in? The fairgrounds was there long before you. At least the fairgrounds supporters had some class on their side with DW and Sterling there.

By: rhob on 11/17/10 at 3:32

I was there last night and I thought a lot of information came out that shows just how much the council members did not know about the passion of the people and the facts of this Bill. It seems to be a "no winner" for the citizens of Davidson County. I would like for someone to be able to explained why the closing of the fairgrounds and why the move.. using real numbers and not estimated or manipulated figures. The fairgrounds are a part of Nashville's history and we should have pride in the area and its amenities. The Mayor's office and Fair Board have continued to let the property go down and lose revenue for their own reasons, what I do not know. Is it an eye sore? YES! But with no money being spent in the last 5 to 10 years with the use that it gets, what would one expect? I do not believe there is any plan for another place for the state fair. It will be over if this administration has anything to do with it. The flea market will not work at HH, I guarantee that., Not enough space, parking, fire hazards, traffic concerns, safety, loading or unloading room, storage, etc. I voted for this present Mayor and I am appalled at the things I am hearing.
Does the present Mayor want his legacy to be " I brought the new convention center to town" or "I closed the fairgrounds after 104 years"? I hope all our leaders listen to the voices of the voters.
August of next year will not be here soon enough if things keep going down.

By: jojo15 on 11/17/10 at 3:33

The neighborhood is great....the fairgrounds...not so great. They're a dump...and they have been for a long time.

By: Community-carl-... on 11/17/10 at 6:10

Hey jojo15,

Your are certainly entitled to your opinion. Have you ever cleaned a stable, worked in a barn, or done serious gardening? I have. I wonder if you have any real experience to draw upon, or, bless your heart, maybe you are a snob!

By: TITAN1 on 11/17/10 at 6:13

You knew the fairgrounds was there before you moved in, right? My wife and daughters went to Christmas Village last week and had no complaints.

By: Citizen-1 on 11/17/10 at 6:38

I agree with the Mayor. I think the Antioch area needs a little help right now and this move would do that. If we improve the mall, other businesses will come and provide much needed jobs. It's worth a shot, lets do it.

By: MAmom on 11/17/10 at 8:11

Originally Dean's plan was to "redevelop" the Fairgrounds. Then when there was push back ... he started throwing out "bones" to get more people on board with his plan. These were not part of his original plan ... they kind of morphed as the discussion moved forward.

The following promises have been made - but all are contingent on "redevelopment" of the Fairgrounds (plus a multimillion lease debt):
1) a park in a flood plain for the Fairgrounds neighborhood (could have been done anyway),
2) cleaning up a portion of a polluted stream (should have been done anyway),
3) giving a Community Center to HH residents (should have been done anyway).
4) make HH viable again by bailing out CBL (even though there is a high likelihood that the flea market, etc. will fail at HH).

Other examples of less-than-honest behavior:
1. Dean's projected revenue & job numbers are all unsubstantiated estimates - underlying assumptions have not been revealed - so these numbers cannot be evaluated. So are effectively lies.
2. The Fairboard has been running up expenses and chasing away revenue - to make the financials perform poorly to "justify" disposition of the property (even though provisions of the original Fairgrounds legaldocuments made provision for difficult financial times).
3. Dean promises thousands of jobs from "redevelopment" - implies that these jobs will go to local people. Realistically, a big Corporate employer will not be a new company - and when they move there the good jobs will go to their existing employees - not to unemployed local people.
4. Deans representatives have said the HH site is is acceptable (to them) for flea market/expo events. That is despite the facts:
- there are not enough doors to enable vendors to set-up and break-down in a timely manner,
- HH has less square footage than the Fairgrounds,
- there are insufficient people/stuff movers (i.e.: elevators/escalators),
- car and boat shows have said the structure will not support the weight of their vehicles,
- animal events will not work there,
- there are fire code limitations on how many people can be in the building,
- there are parking restrictions at different times of the year,
- traffic around Bell Road is terrible, etc.
- and the public doesn't want to go to a failed mall. if they did, they'd be shopping at a mall.... instead of at a flea market.
5. Dean has said that vendors want to go there. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Vendors have conducted unofficial surveys amongst themselves - and except for a handful - overwhelmingly vendors do NOT want to go to HH. Many plan to boycot HH because their customers have told them they will not attend flea markets at HH.
6. The fairgrounds are empty 6 days a week. Again, wrong.

There is a lot of vacant commercial property around town - some of it not too far from downtown. Why not develop these properties?

Karl Dean - If this is such a great idea - why not put it up to a public vote?


By: WE231 on 11/17/10 at 8:21

My daddy told me I was crazy to move back to Nashville. He said the reason he left was because of all the "Good Ol' Boys" politics. Sixty years later, new faces same old politics. Only difference now, is those telling me what I want, when I want it and how much I'm gonna pay for it are all a bunch of damn yankees! (and their slick good ol boy flunkies).
Fix up the Fairgrounds and keep the facilities in tact. There are no other venues for wrestling and roller derby and yes, the controversial race track is one of a dying breed, but no need to let it die. Buy Dillards building and turn it into a SCHOOL. We don't need another library, there is one a few blocks down the street. We don't need a community center where gangs can fight over whose basketball court it is and we definitely don't want a public health center here, put it on Nolensville Road next to the unemployment office. A Vocational High School would be the best user of the mall. Give kids who won't go to college a chance to learn a trade like auto mechanics, paint & body work, cosmotology, electronics repair, medical coding. You could even have English as a second language classes. Nashville Tech had expressed interest not long ago in setting up a satellite school here, but then the news just went quietly away. I wonder why?

By: stitch12 on 11/17/10 at 8:42

Hey citizen 1
I know the solution to help the Hickory Hollow financial problems. The is a building in HH that is up for sale for only $3.5 million and pay $56,000.00 in property tax per year, or if you prefer you can sign a ten year lease, CBL will buy it for you and in return nobody pays Metro any property tax and you will only have to pay $10 million for the building. There is a monthly maintenance fee that will probably only cost you just a mere $200,000.00 per year, but you and your three other real estate buddies can handle it, right? James Weaver and CBL would love you, since they get a big fat finders fee. You can throw a big party and since only the ellite can communicate with him on his level, invite the Mayor and his friends Rich Reibling, James Weaver and pawns Sandra Moore, and Greg Atkins and even Sam. They'll party with you until they don't need you anymore then you won't be after to communicate on his level anymore either.

By: wwrcd on 11/17/10 at 10:01

By: MAmom on 11/17/10 at 10:47

And at the end of the article it says:

After The City Paper furnished the new information about Watson's past to fairgrounds group member Lisa Leeds, who was the Libertarian Party's 2008 candidate for the State House seat held by Mary Pruitt (D-Nashville), she replied with a one-sentence message just as this story was going to press.

"Thomas Watson is no longer affiliated with the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group," Leeds said.

By: bfra on 11/18/10 at 7:08

girliegirl said - those of us with any real income won't go to the Fairgrounds because, frankly, that's the spookiest section of the entire city.
I know families worth millions, that still go to this Fairgrounds, exhibit and enjoy other activities there as well. But then they are not snobs!

By: pswindle on 11/18/10 at 9:19

Of course it is a dirty deal. Dean got his way about the Convention Center. We the people of Davidson County will pay for this mistake by higher property taxes. He knows that he is a one term mayor and he is trying to break the budget while in office.