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.