By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — NASHVILLE, TN – Belmont University wants to put an indoor batting cage and some offices in a public park they already have dibs on for baseball and track and field events. Belmont signed a lease in 2007 that gave the school first choice on using the fields in E. S. Rose Park for $4000 a month.
Belmont paid for a $9 million renovation of the 24-acre park in 2010-11. It is has 2 outdoor baseball fields, a big soccer and track & field stadium, tennis courts and basketball courts. It is a very nice facility, well kept, and regulation. No dogs, skate boards or bicycles are allowed.
Edgehill residents at first opposed the idea but Belmont promised to share the facility with the public, promised scholarships to Edgehill residents, and agreed to sponsor local sport leagues.
Local baseball, softball, and soccer leagues use Rose Park as does Belmont’s baseball team, the Belmont Bruins. Belmont also promised to be a good partner in future discussions with the neighborhood.
It wasn’t. The city council voted May 2 to amend Belmont’s lease to allow the construction of the two-story building on the park’s northern ridge without consulting Edgehill residents.
Councilman Colby Sledge and Belmont officials didn’t meet with people in the neighborhood until after the council passed the bill. It was pretty much already a done deal. Edgehill residents feel betrayed.
“The building is being proposed in the northern part of the park not taken up by the sports facility. It has an amazing view of downtown and of Fort Negley and an amazing view to the East. We are trying to protect that for the neighborhood and for the future,”said Joel Dark, a member of the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition.
“It’s an amazing place to be if you want to see the sunrise or watch fireworks. There are two picnic pavilions up there. And it has the potential to be a lot more,” Dark said.
According to the drawing presented to the council Belmont will build the batting cage/office building next to a parking lot where one of two picnic pavilions is located. The unanswered question is: why? The facility already has a batting cage and a bullpen next to the baseball stadium.
The extra $416/mo. rent Belmont pays will be split between Parks, and two adjacent Metro schools, Rose Park Middle on 8th Ave. and Carter-Lawrence Elementary on 12th Ave. Those kids will just have to give up one of two picnic pavilions, all that remains of their neighborhood park.
The 2016 Plan to Play Master Park Plan calls for adding 4500 acres of public park space to the city’s current 12,000 acres of open space, including 108 parks and 19 greenways. By 2027 the plan calls for adding another 379 acres to community parks like E.L. Rose. Current total acreage of those neighborhood parks is 1,170 acres.
Mayor Megan Barry recently announced a $500,000 conservation fund to expand the city’s green space. But it was her office that pushed the development of Fort Negley. And now, members of the city council are doing the same thing with Rose Park.
District 17 Councilman Colby Sledge called two community meetings about the proposed building. According to the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition website, “strong and consistent community opposition to this project was expressed” at both those meetings. You can reach that website here: https://edgehillcoalition.org/2017/09/19/edgehill-opposes-belmont-universitys-building-indoor-batting-facility-and-office-at-es-rose-park-update/
Dark said that the conversations with Belmont officials and Colby Sledge were more about where to put the offices and batting cage, not about whether to build them. Dark says there is no fixing a plan that predetermines an outcome favoring Belmont that its neighbors don’t want.
This is the second time Colby Sledge has supported private construction in public parks in his district. He held two public meetings about Fort Negley and later claimed the people in his district wanted to develop it.
However, one of the judges who voted to give St. Cloud Hill Partners the contract to develop Fort Negley says there should have been an “all parks” option included in the bidding process. Clay Bailey, President of Friends of Fort Negley, has come up with such a plan that he presented to the Park Board on September 12.
Sledge sponsored the amendment to the Belmont lease in a bill to the city council joined by At-Large Councilman John Cooper and 19th District Councilwoman Burkley Allen. It has come around to bite him in his hindquarters.
The coalition sent all three council members a letter complaining they were not treated as equals in discussions about building in the park and asking them to rescind the bill. Sledge responded to the letter and said he was well aware his constituents were unhappy but he wasn’t likely to change his mind.
He said Metro Legal advised him that if the amendment to the Belmont lease was rescinded, the 40-year lease could be terminated and the city would have to pony up $9 million Belmont spent on transforming Rose Park into a sports complex.
So now it’s going to be a game of chicken not baseball. Will Sledge call for a renegotiation about the new building? If he does, will Belmont pull the plug on a facility it built and uses 22 percent of its operating hours? The Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition plans to keep pushing to repeal the bill that gives Belmont carte blanche to do what it wants with Rose Park.