By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN – Two new plans have surfaced amidst the swirling controversy about what to do with the old Greer Stadium parcel in Fort Negley Park. Both plans take a “parks only” approach to the site where three thousand former slaves built a union fort and where hundreds of them died from disease and exposure in the winter of 1862.
One plan would build a sports complex on the footprint of the old stadium and develop land next to the park. The other would tear down the stadium and return it to the park as green space.
Clay Bailey, President of the Friends of Fort Negley, wants to keep the park a park and he wants to preserve the history of what happened there and honor the memories of those who died defending their freedom from slavery.
Bailey likes the concept drawn by landscape architect Ben Page (see below) with a reflecting pond and a greenway to reach the city cemetery across the railroad tracks where many former slaves are buried.
“That is kind of an open canvas but does not preclude things being incorporated onto that site,” Bailey said.
He hopes for a museum, proposed in the 2007 Parks Plan, that would speak to Civil War history as well as the civil rights story beginning with slavery, then the Emancipation Proclamation, and which continues today.
“We don’t want to convey the idea that here is the plan and it’s set in stone but rather convey the idea that here is how it would look with all public space and then what would make it even better for the public good?”
And that would include monuments and maybe a picnic pavilion or playground. “It’s not a closed idea,” Bailey said.
He hopes the park will remain a respectful and quiet place, an open-air memorial like the Vietnam wall in Washington. An artists’ café, people playing Frisbee, and retail stores on the property just won’t do.
Bailey presented the Friends of Fort Negley plan to the Park Board on Tuesday. The board would have to approve any project and so would the city council. Neither have done so yet.
Bailey announced Fort Negley Park has just been nominated as a UNESCO Slave Route site in Paris and will soon join the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom of the National Park Service.
Bailey said that the Mathews Plan would need a waiver of the historic overlay established for the park in 2005. He also stressed the Park Board is under no obligation to make any award to develop the park and that the Greenways Commission would have to decide the city does not need the park’s green space.
The Park Board also heard Tuesday from Devinder Sandhu who unveiled a new proposal that he presented Monday to the Minority Caucus at City Hall.
“We wanted at least to be able to present something in public that the public can look at and say ‘Yeah. That makes sense’,” said Sandhu.
“We are incorporating essentially the park plan which is the way it should have been. That property should remain park and for public use,” he said.
“I think they should set the RFQ again,” he added, referring to Cloud Hill Partners proposal selected by the Metro Procurement Division in May, that has been widely criticized . (See Fort Negley: An Inside Deal Turned Inside Out).
Sandhu’s plan keeps the current green space in the park but builds on land right next to it and adds two more acres from property one of Sandhu’s partners, who has made a deal to buy it from the CSX railroad. It is a 3-acre strip of property east of the park boundary that runs from Chestnut St. northward toward the city cemetery. (see illustration)
On one of those acres Sandhu wants to build two high-rise buildings. A four level parking structure with 248 parking spaces will sit between the buildings. There is a surface parking lot north of the stadium with 434 parking spaces.
Greer Stadium would be remodeled with concrete seats around one end of a rectangular sports field or a square performance space, depending on the final design. There would be two indoor gyms, one for soccer and lacrosse and the other for basketball and volleyball. Those operations would be run by a non-profit.
In the lower left (see illustration), on the corner of Chestnut and Fort Negley Blvd is a teardrop 2-acre piece of property that belongs to the city. Sandhu wants to buy it and build a 170-room hotel for tourists and to house visiting teams playing tournaments at the park.
While not an “all green” park option, the Adventure Park plan is like Bailey’s in one way: it is not set in stone. It differs from the Cloud Hill Partners plan in two major ways.
“Our plan allows us to take input from the community and government and any other interested parties,” said Sandhu. He said that what he builds, how much, and where he builds it is all subject to negotiation. Sandhu first proposed a soccer facility on the Greer Stadium site four years ago.
Secondly, Sandhu’s plan provides space and funding for a number of non-profits through the mechanism of a tax overlay district. It is like the one created for the Ascend Theater downtown that provides funding to the Nashville Parks Foundation and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
Adventure Park, Inc. wants to sign a community benefits agreement, a contract that would promise to hire locals at good wages and earmark some of the tax revenue from development next to the park for charitable organizations like the NAACP, Stand Up Nashville, Nashville Parks Foundation, and Friends of Fort Negley.
The Mathews plan leases land from the city that is not taxed for 99 years. Those groups get no funds from his plan.
What will happen next is anybody’s guess but Minority Caucus President Scott Davis said he’s got the votes to block any proposal that doesn’t pay due respect and real dividends to the African American community in Nashville.
“That’s the important thing,” he said.