Over the years, the Tennessee State Fairgrounds has been a second home to many who grew up in Nashville.
The flea market — and the guy with the modified camper filled with books on the back of his pickup truck — was always a favorite.
And there was the Tennessee State Fair. I’m not sure when the practice ended, but while I was in elementary school, we got a day off from school to attend the fair, and every student in the county got a small allotment of tickets that could be used for anything from carnival rides to the petting zoo.
My more recent memories are from afar. I used to live in a duplex in Oak Hill, near Glendale Elementary. Although my home was about five miles from the fairgrounds, on Saturday nights I could hear the steady roar of the engines speeding cars and trucks around the racetrack. It was a strangely soothing sound.
On overcast nights I could sit in my front yard and watch circles of light dart around the clouds of the city. The lights from the track bounced off the hoods of those racecars and reflected into the night sky.
There are many other reasons people have gone there over the years, lining the streets and trudging up the hill for pro wrestling, home and garden shows, and of course Fan Fair (which I still refuse to call CMA Fest).
If you look back at photos of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds over the years, you will see that practically nothing has changed. And therein lies the problem.
The fairgrounds has long been neglected, like the forgotten cousin of the Municipal Auditorium, also a relic of a bygone era. Most of the buildings on the 117-acre site were built in the 1970s, if not before. If the walls of the fairgrounds could talk, they would ask for a ventilator.
There are passionate arguments being made by those who want to develop the property as well as those seeking to “save the fairgrounds.” Unfortunately, there are people (looking at you, Duane Dominy) who are using highly suspect “economic impact” numbers — as The City Paper reported recently — to advance their cause.
Davidson County isn’t getting any bigger, and there is only so much land from which city revenue can be generated through taxes and so forth. The fairgrounds property is a stone’s throw from downtown and should be making money for the betterment of the community. It should be generating new revenue for schools, public safety and infrastructure, to start.
Frankly, the long decline of the fairgrounds began in 1984, when NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series pulled its races from the speedway because of the unwillingness of powers that were to upgrade the track and facilities. In 2000, the Nationwide Series left as well, moving to the contemporary environs of the new speedway in Wilson County. Then in 2001, Fan Fair ended its 19-year run at the site and moved
to various locations, primarily LP Field.
I understand those who want to keep the racetrack there, those who don’t want to move the flea market, and the desire to create something other than another bland office park.
Something will have to give in these debates. We must be pragmatic and do what is best for the city. If that means tearing the place down, so be it. If it can be shown with real economic impact numbers that we should sink more money into the place, then so be it.
Nostalgia should have no place in this debate. Our fond memories of bygone eras aren’t paying the bills of a growing city.