Mike Jameson’s political hill on which to die is a 17-acre plat of public land on the east bank of the Cumberland River.
That’s where, until earlier this year, Jameson wholeheartedly believed an Adventure Water Park and pilot urban forest project were going to soon be installed as part of riverfront redevelopment more than 20 years in the making.
But through a series of coincidental events that followed Jameson sticking his nose where apparently others believed it didn’t belong, the popular East Nashville Metro Councilman got wind of other plans for developing the riverfront.
Whose ‘other’ plans? None other than Mayor Karl Dean — a fact Jameson laid out in dramatic fashion to an overflow crowd at the East Park Community Center on Saturday morning. The diverse crowd was none too pleased — with Dean, not Jameson.
Every East Nashville neighborhood association was represented at the meeting, which had state Rep. Mike Stewart, school board representative Gracie Porter and a handful of Metro Council members in attendance.
Jameson began his presentation with a warning: “I don’t think you’re ever going to get your Adventure Park” — a claim that drew raucous applause. “This was all about to be re-prioritized without them asking you what you wanted.”
Left out of the loop
What ended Saturday with Jameson calling out the Dean administration for revising the priority list for redeveloping the riverfront began by happenstance on Jan. 22. That’s when the councilman popped his head into a Downtown Partnership open house. According to Jameson, Dean told the crowd that in a couple of weeks he would make an announcement about the downtown riverfront.
“And that makes me nervous, because when people say ‘the downtown riverfront,’ they always mean [the west bank side of the river],” Jameson said.
On the basis of that comment, Jameson began asking around to ascertain what the announcement would be. Eventually he found himself at an “off-campus” meeting inside a coffee shop with MDHA representatives and was handed a map of the riverfront with a list of projects identified through a lengthy and detailed public process that included paying Massachusetts consulting firm Hargreaves and Associates $450,000.
The projects themselves had not been altered, but they had been re-prioritized and the Adventure Park found itself at Phase III of the plans instead of first in line as had been suggested by Hargreaves and requested by the public.
Jameson was angry and he asked MDHA to hold a public meeting to present the new plans to his constituents, which it did.
Playing the role of administration-appointed antagonist to Jameson at Saturday’s meeting was Ed Owens, who was hired by Dean last year to be the director of riverfront development for MDHA.
Owens explained to the crowd that the mayor had asked him to revisit the riverfront projects. “When the mayor asks you to do something, you do it,” he said.
But Owens presented an alternative plan that would see landscaping and green space come to the east and west banks of the river before the Adventure Park ever got started. This in spite of the fact that schematics for the park were complete and the funds already approved thanks to a 2007 Council vote appropriating $8 million.
Owens said power lines were going to be removed and buried underground on the west bank of the river, which made improvements there a logical next step. He also said the economy played a role in shifting the priority list, though he later conceded that both plans would effectively cost the same.
Jameson let Owens off the hook by telling the crowd, “I don’t think he’s being allowed to do what he wants to do. I think he’s following somebody else’s orders.”
Rift with mayor’s office not new
Jameson has called out Dean’s administration before. Last year during a Council budget meeting, Jameson grilled Planning Department Director Rick Bernhardt about the future employment of a neighborhood-friendly staffer in front of shocked Council members.
Jameson set up a scenario where Planning Manager David Kleinfelter was going to lose his job because he held a developer’s feet to the fire on a measly sidewalk requirement for an apartment in Antioch. The developer went to the mayor’s office — specifically Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote — and, according to Jameson, Bernhardt was told Kleinfelter had to go.
It’s a claim denied by everyone outside of Jameson, however. Eventually Kleinfelter left Planning, but not before conceding that Jameson’s intervention bought him time to consider other opportunities.
Jameson’s action put him in Dean’s doghouse, where he has stayed ever since.
Afraid he might have become too toxic to get his Council goals accomplished, Jameson went the route of having less controversial members co-sponsor legislation, sometimes deciding to not even sign bills of great personal value. And, Jameson continued trying to keep a low profile until he got wind of the change in riverfront plans.
Dean is currently in Argentina as part of Nashville’s sister cities program, but his office released the following statement when asked to respond to Jameson’s claims.
“The riverfront redevelopment plan was completed over two years ago,” Dean’s spokeswoman Janel Lacy said. “Ed is now going through a public process of determining if what was set out two years ago still fits the needs of our community today. That was the purpose of the community meeting at East Park.”
Color Jameson unconvinced. He vaguely suggested that the public comment process, which MDHA said it would begin on its Web site this week, would not be conducted honestly. He instead, chose a ‘show of hands’ vote on Saturday — the original plan with the Adventure Park going first or the revised plan with green space and buried power lines. Everyone in the room raised their arms in favor of the Adventure Park.
Still, the guy whose vote mattered the most was in Argentina. Much of East Nashville is eagerly awaiting his return.