Monday, March 9, 2009

Riverfront Development meeting - comments from Councilman Jameson

I emailed Councilman Mike Jameson this morning to find out what he thought about the meeting on this past Saturday regarding the riverfront development.

He stated that he would offer the following comments to what he heard from MDHA on Saturday:

Just 48 hours before the meeting, I received a new plan (the third version received in just 4 weeks) from MDHA. In a nutshell, in order to convince us NOT to ask for the Adventure Park & Pilot Urban Forest anymore, MDHA was now offering to construct every OTHER project on the East bank, and to do so first. (Those other projects are a Cove, an overlook with lawn, an esplanade, and improvements to the Woodland bridge). In the second year, MDHA would construct downtown-side projects. And then in the third year, curiously, MDHA claimed they would proceed with the Adventure Park & Pilot Urban Forest.

Some might suspect that this new plan was designed to divert our attention away from the Adventure Park & pilot urban forest, while making us think we would eventually get those projects if we just waited three years. But here were a few of the problems with the new plan that emerged Saturday:

1) Corps approval: All of the other East bank projects that MDHA now offers to build in year one CAN’T be built in year one because all of the other projects touch the water, so Corps of Engineers permits must first be obtained. Obtaining Corps permits is a tedious process that requires anywhere from 8-20 months to up to 4 years. The Adventure Park & Pilot Urban Forest don’t touch the water, so a Corps permit isn’t necessary. THAT’S why the consultants (on whom we spent $450,000.00) advised us to start with the Adventure Park. We can begin construction on the Park this year while applying for Corps permits for the other projects. Had we agreed to the “other” projects, we wouldn’t see shovels moving dirt until 2011 at best.

2) Sequencing matters: The specific sequence for constructing the individual projects was recommended for a reason. Certain projects must follow completion of others. Just as you can’t build a roof until you’ve finished the floor and walls. In this instance, for example, the cove and esplanade must follow construction of the urban forest because the irrigation drip, water run-off, and foliage have to be coordinated. The approved plan was meticulously sequenced. We can’t simply re-order that sequence on the fly and call it “an alternative plan.”

3) Activity generator: The Adventure Park was also recommended as the first East bank project because it was the primary “activity generator.” No other projects will create the size and level of activity that the Park will. Other projects like the cove and the overlook will be nice amenities. But the point is to begin with a project that draws the most people at the outset. That’s how you maintain momentum across multiple phases. Other cities have implemented similar sequences with excellent results. (See, e.g., Louisville Waterfront Development).

4) There’s no money guaranteed after the 2nd year: As noted, MDHA offered to proceed with the Adventure Park & Pilot Urban Forest beginning in year 3. Unfortunately (and, some might suspect, not coincidentally), we only have funding identified for two years. By the time the third year rolls around (and the public’s memory has faded), the Adventure Park will be a distant memory.

5) Alternative staging area : Another reason we were advised to begin with the Adventure Park is that, upon completion, it will serve as an alternate staging area for downtown events (CMA’s, 4th of July, etc.) when construction begins on the downtown-side of the river. The “other” projects on the East bank can’t serve that function.

6) Environment: The Adventure Park is the only site that is a contaminated soil / brown field. The other sites along the East bank and the downtown sites aren’t. If we’re serious about addressing the river’s environmental hazards, we need to start at the site most in need.

7) If it’s all the same to you: Lastly, the offer by MDHA to proceed with the Adventure Park & Pilot Urban Forest in the 3rd year raises even more questions. If they’re willing to eventually build it in year 3, then why not build it in year 1? I mean, if it’s all the same to them, let’s just do it in the order and sequence recommended by the public, the steering committee, and the consultants?

Please urge your friends and neighbors to express their preference publicly in any format they feel comfortable (letters to editor, emails to Mayor / MDHA/ Metro Council, or simply urging friends to participate). If we don’t speak up now we’ll be, well, sold down the river. See links below.

You can also read the following article from the Nashville City Paper.

MDHA has opened a public comment period on revising the priority list for projects, but the notes from supporters also encourage you to copy Council and the Mayor’s office on any e-mails directly to MDHA: