As the lawyers lawyer and the politicians politic, the nattering nabobs of negativism are spreading some pretty thick rhetoric about the Predators and the Arena that bears a little scrutiny.
Myth # 1: Local politicians just get all gaga when gazillion-aire pro-sports owners show up so we abandon all reason and open the city's wallet.
Well, I can't speak for all of us, but in my case it isn't true. For me, any revisions to the lease agreement with the Predators are driven by a set of facts. Those facts are: a) We own a building that cost the people of Nashville well over $150 million dollars to construct; b) That building, like all buildings needs a tenant; c) The activity in and around that building - when occupied - generates revenue for the city of Nashville; d) I don't care if that revenue is the result of hockey games, NBA games, rugby games (but rugby players are way too manly to play indoors) or the Highland Games just as long as it is the highest and best we can achieve.
If anyone has a better alternative, I would like to know what it is. The cold, hard truth is that just about the only thing that fills a building the size of the Arena on a regular basis is professional sports.
Myth # 2: The least amount of money the Arena cost us was during the 2005 lock-out year.
I am not sure where this one is coming from but I have heard it repeated a number of times. In addition to being counter intuitive, it is just plain inaccurate. According to data from the Finance Office, the total cost, including debt service and general fund appropriation for operating subsidy less revenues for the Arena in years 02-07 are: 2002: $13.3 million; 2003: $12.3 million; 2004: $12.9 million; 2005: $14.8 million; 2006: $12.1 million; 2007: $11.2 million. The rebate we receive from the state for sales tax generated at the Arena, dropped from $1.5 million in 2004 t0 $202,713 in 2005.
Myth # 3: The world as we know it will cease to exist and our image as a City will be tarnished forever.
I think this one is probably true if you own a restaurant or bar on lower Broad. But for the City as a whole, it probably does not represent the cataclysm that some fans might suggest. Our image as a city is built more around our outstanding contributions to the performing arts than anything else. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau chose "Music City, USA" as the brand not "Hockey City USA."
But back to that restaurant or bar owner. That is a real, live, tax-paying, hard working man or woman who has built an enterprise around 41 dates a year that put 13,000 - 14,000 people on the streets of downtown. He/she is likely to feel the loss of the Predators. If the Predator's leave, every business failure - no matter how marginal or incometent the management - will be blamed on the Predator's departure. It won't necessarily be true but it makes good copy/video and we shall hear about it.
So, out of respect for those people who work everyday to make Lower Broad a lively and properous place, I hope there is another idea waiting in the wings because we will need it and fast.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
As the lawyers lawyer and the politicians politic, the nattering nabobs of negativism are spreading some pretty thick rhetoric about the Predators and the Arena that bears a little scrutiny.
Friday, October 26, 2007
In late June, Councilmembers Mike Jameson, Jason Holleman and I would like to swim across the Cumberland River to demonstrate what a beautiful and clean water source it is and to draw attention to the need for development that fully integrates this valuable resource into our community. Right now, we have committments from Scott Potter, Director of Metro Water Services, Sonia Harvat, Public Information Officer for Water Services, Tom Cross, Attorney for Metro Legal, Toby Compton, Legislative Director for the Office of Mayor Karl Dean and Margaret Holleman, attorney for Metro Health to make the crossing with us. Butch Bryant of Metro Water Services has agreed to man the boat in the middle of the river to make sure we don't drown or get hit by a barge.
This idea started as a joke. Mike Jameson apparently had planned to swim the Cumberland in honor of his 40th birthday many years ago but never got around to it. The idea regrew legs on Wednesday afternooon when the EPA, in an effort to get credit for 20 years of work by Metro Water, issued a press release that was inaccurate in several key respects about a recent legal settlement between Metro, the EPA and the Department of Justice. Specifically, they claimed that Metro Water had been pouring 200 million gallons of raw sewage into the Cumberland each year. The truth is - and we all know what the truth is because we have to write it down and report it to the EPA - that we had overflows of raw sewage totaling 4.2 million gallons so far in 2007. In 1989, that number was 2.3 BILLION with a B gallons. If that ain't progress, I don't know what is.
The EPA also implied that they were making Nashville pay for $300-400 in sewer infrastructure improvements. Nowhere in the legal agreement does it say that we are required to spend that kind of money. The truth is we spend that amount every 10 years or so ANYWAY. That is what it costs to take care of our sewer infrastructure. The EPA is requiring us to spend about $3.08 million for certain improvements mostly related to making sewer available to septic users.
So, after getting this press release, I got fired up. Mike Jameson agreed it was time to show the EPA and the Department of Justice we didn't need no stickin' Consent Decree to keep our water clean. Sonia Harvat has agreed to help with organizing some of the logistics and hopefully we'll get some help from Parks and a few other organizations. We have a few details to work out and I will keep you posted.
You would have heard it here first but Michael Cass from The Tennessean called me this afternoon while I was in a fit of laughter over some trash talk that was traveling between Jason Holleman and Tom Cross. I was forced to explain myself and so this story made it to Michael's blog first. Which is just fine. Michael can scoop me any day.
Update: Councilmen Carter Todd and Sean McGuire have agreed to join the swim. Councilman Phil Claiborne has agreed to assist with mid-river safety operations. Councilman Randy Foster has agreed to provide shore support by writing all the jokes. (A sample of Randy's wit: Q: What do you call 5 Councilmembers in the Cumberland River? A: A good start.)
Update 2: Paul Davis, Head of Water Pollution Control at TDEC is also on board...or rather over board as the case may be.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The Board of Zoning Appeals heard and granted a request for a Special Excpetion for a church to be located on Old Charlotte between Bresslyn and Templeton. The BZA's decision had been deferred from September so church officials could re-design their plan to accomodate concerns of the surrounding residents and Public Works.
Here is the new site plan that was submitted for approval:
As you can see, there are some differences from the site plan submitted initially. The later plan orients traffic toward the Old Charlotte block face rather then letting it spread out between Old Charlotte and Templeton. Parking behind the church has been eliminated and replaced with significant landscape buffer that will protect the residential properties that abut.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I am sure I am the only Metro Council member in Nashville that represents a US Vice President. I am pretty sure that I am the only Metro Council member in Nashville that represents a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The fact that those two are the same person, Vice President Al Gore, should be of no consequence.
I was rubbing these facts into my friend and colleague, Jason Holleman today. (Open Meetings Law police, be not afraid. Jason was toting me home after my car broke down.) Jason represents the 24th District (the Fighting 24th as Freddie O' says) and has the privilege to represent Senator Bill Frist and Senator Lamar Alexander. So, you can see we are in a little bit of a grudge match.
When I pointed out Vice President Gore's big win in Stockholm, Jason's retort was unanswerable. Vice President Gore may have chosen to live in District 23 but he chose the Park Cafe in District 24 to celebrate. No new smoke free Sperry's? No new format Whitfield's? The shame! The ignominy!
I shall never live this down until I bring up the more-than-one multi-Grammy award winners that populate the 23rd and hope he doesn't know where Alison Krauss lives.
But I don't plan to limit it to just Oct 15. The single biggest source of water pollution in this country is run-off from storm water. We have a program in Metro that manages our storm water and tries to educate people about the impact it has on our environment. We need that program to be funded and supported by all of Nashville. When the time comes, raise your voice to protect our biggest environmental resource, our single biggest economic development tool and our single prettiest landscape - the Cumberland River.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Our stormwater community meeting Monday night was yet another affirmation of what a wonderful place Nashville is. Director of Metro Water Services, Scott Potter, gave an informative and interesting presentation that explained what our (unfunded) federally mandated storm water program does and what challenges lie ahead. We were joined by Councilman at large, Charlie Tygard, District Councilmembers Keith Durbin (18), Jason Holleman (24), Sean McGuire (25), Carter Todd (34) and Bo Mitchell (35). As an extra bonus, the man who has advocated for better, consistently funded storm water services for about a decade, former Councilman at large Leo Waters was also in attendance.
I won't belabor the point by launching into another discussion about what storm water is because you can read about it here. What you probably want to know is what the people in the room Monday night wanted to know which is what is Metro doing to address our storm water concerns? Well, the answer is they are doing ALOT. Metro stormwater has 5 divisions but you probably only care about 3 of them: master planning, routine maintenance and remedial maintenance.
The main function of master planning is to identify structures in the flood plain/flood way that have been prone to repeat flooding and work to get them out of the way of the water. That effort inevitibly means using FEMA matching funds to aquire these structures and demolish them. The best way to help people whose homes flood is to buy their house and let them get out of the way. (Note: This does not mean eminent domain and condemnation. This means seller sets a price and Metro either pays it and acquires the property or they don't.)
Routine maintenance is the function of storm water that involves cleaning out drains, culverts, ditches and all those nifty things that are meant to carry water away from our homes and yards. Just like the plumbing at home, if the water can't get through, it stops and things flood. Since Metro Water Services has had responsibility for storm water, they have cleaned out over 125,000 inlets!
Remedial maintenance is the repair and replacement of drain pipes and culverts. Over time this infrastructure wears out and needs to be repaired and replaced. A typical replacement in our part of Nashville is the removal of corroded corrugated metal pipe and replacing it with concrete culverts or pipe. Over time corrugated metal rusts away and the roadbed above it fails and needs to be replaced.
After learning all that, we then heard that Storm Water Services has some pretty significant challenges before them if they hope to continue providing even the minimum amount of service. This concern is made even more compelling when you consider that, for the most part, my constituents are not satisfied with the amount of time it has taken to get even the most serious storm water problems addressed. The main problem is...drumroll please....funding.
Funding for storm water has been a patchwork of water and sewer revenues, general fund money and proceeds from general obligation bonds. Because this funding stream is both unpredictable and in some respects restricted by bond covenants and Metro law, it makes it difficult if not impossible for Metro Water to develop a long term capital plan to address flooding and drainage concerns. Metro Water is kind of like a guy trying to buy a car when he has no job or regular income.
In August, Metro Council passed unanimously a bill sponsored by me, Councilman Parker Toler, Councilman Mike Jameson and Councilman Jim Hodge that required Metro Water Services to return to Council no later than February 1, 2008, with a plan explaining what services they would supply the people of Nashville and how they would fund them. At the meeting on Monday night, we learned that several cities like Memphis, Chattanooga, Murfreesboro and Franklin have developed programs that can serve as models.
Stay tuned. We are interested in how storm water problems will be addressed in a sane and rational manner. To illustrate just how serious the problem is, one gentleman in attendance stood up and said "I don't like it when I hear 'I am from the government and I am here to help you' but in this case I'll make an exception." He then complimented the staff of MWS and everyone stood up and applauded.
What a great district!
Saturday, October 6, 2007
This is the first of many posts about Metro's storm water management program. Like you, I can think of few issues less sexy than storm water. But, the funny thing about being an elected representative is very often you don't get to choose the issues, they choose you. Before your eyes glaze over let me tell you a few things. For the uninitiated, storm water is a serious environmental, business development and neighborhood issue. Storm water is the stuff that falls from the sky - at least it used to - and picks us trash, chemicals, oil and gas residue, sticks, leaves, fertilizers, you name it, and carries it to the river. Polluted run-off is the single biggest challenge we have in keeping our creeks and rivers clean. Amazingly, if a big business were to dump into the Cumberland River what flows there naturally, we would see them on the front page of The New York Times.
Our storm water system is made up of natural and man-made pathways. There are creeks, ditches, gullies, culverts, channels and rivers that carry rainwater and snow melt to their inevitable destination, the Cumberland River. We have two responsibilities with that system: make sure it properly conveys water without flooding and that the water is as clean as it can be when it gets to the Cumberland.
As I campaigned door-to-door in the summer of 2006, I heard from many residents how frustrated they were that storm water, drainage, flooding and water quality issues were not being addressed as quickly as they would like. The Warner Parks Community in particular suffers from flooding along the Vaughns Branch of Richland Creek. Both the Vaughns Branch on the south side of Hwy 70 and the Jocelyn Branch on the north are listed as impaired streams by the EPA.
In response to these concerns, I went, rookie style, to see the rather intimidating (he was a Naval officer for 12 years and he is really, really smart) Director of Metro Water Services, Scott Potter. Using my best, nicest manners I asked that he address my constituents' concerns and fix their storm water problems. To which he responded, in his gentlemanly albeit intimidating way that he had no money. He wanted to help, he really did, but he had a storm water management program with no funding.
Ok, at that point I saw two options: yell and scream and tell my constituents that their problems would not be addressed because the Mayor/MWS/Anybody but me/ was to blame OR come up with a real, long term, sensible solution to managing and funding storm water services. Being more a public servant than a politician, I chose the latter. It might be a bit inconvenient for me to also mention that my constituents are way to smart to let me pass the buck.
So, I took about 6 months talking to neighborhood groups, environmental groups, the Metro Finance Director, The Mayor's office, Metro Legal, Metro Council attorneys, large property owners like Vanderbilt University and Gaylord, the Chamber of Commerce, land use attorneys, real estate developers, engineering firms, the family Corgis Toby and Jingle and anyone else who would listen to me. From those discussions arose a Council bill that passed unanimously in August.
That bill required Metro Water Services to conduct a study and return to Council no later than Feb 1 with a recommended list of storm water services they would and could provide and a proposal on how they would pay for them. This is a long way of telling you that Monday night begins the first in a series of community meetings to discuss those storm water services the public needs. Scott Potter, who I no longer find intimidating but still really, really smart, will be making the presentation. I'll be there as will other council members. The meeting begins promptly at 6pm at the Gordon Jewish Community Center at Hwy 70 and Percy Warner Blvd.
Please come and care about our neighborhoods, our environment and our future.
We are still waiting for results of negotiations between the Mayor and the Predator's. To clarify for Mike Jameson's constituent, I DO NOT support government subsidies for sports franchises. I never got to vote one way or another on the Sounds but there were many things about that deal I truly hated. Lessons learned from the Predators and the Titans, if you will. I voted against the Titans when the referendum was held in the late 90's. I found it hard to swallow then and I hate it even more today that $4MM of Payment in Lieu of Taxes money goes from Metro Water to pay debt service on LP Field. I voted against it, I lost and now I live with the will of the majority until 2026. Same deal with the Arena.
By the way, From a budget perspective, I really could care less if our anchor tenant was a sports team, a movie studio or yes, even the Highland Games. But we decided to build this $150MM building in 1996. That is infrastructure we own. The cost of owning and operating it does not go away if the Predators leave. Yes, that will take money away from programs for the Homeless, Libraries, Police, Fire and Public Infrastructure excluding water and sewer. (For the record, we do not co-mingle our general fund money from sales and property taxes with water and sewer ratepayer money. State law requires us to keep those things separate. Nice rhetoric but wholly misleading. Sorry.)
But it appears that money is gone whether the team (or some other tenant) stays or goes. We gambled, we lost, we learned. However, if someone has another idea for a tenant who will actually generate positive cash flow for the taxpayers I'll be all over it. I just need to know what it is. Anyone?
Thursday, October 4, 2007
I have heard from many of you regarding possible lease amendments for the Predators NHL team. Most of you support doing what we can to keep the team. This sentiment sort of bears out my belief that, given accurate information, most people will make the right decision. The press coverage on this issue has been outstanding - particularly the print media. Bill Harless at the City Paper and Michael Cass at The Tennessean have kept an eagle eye on things and these essential and irrefutable facts have emerged:
1. The Predators team will need more money (in the form of tax revenues) to stay.
2. The Arena will cost the taxpayers more money if it is empty. The Arena - meaning just the building itself - generates about $4MM in sales tax revenue each year (according the MZ Sports, a consultant retained by David Freeman). That number does not include the crazy and much derided "economic development/ mulitplier" nonsense that usually informs these debates. No, that number is the estimated sales tax generated from people buying t-shirts, nachos and tickets. Conveniently enough, the $4 MM in taxes we collect just about offsets the cost of operating the arena. The subsidy in 2007 was about $3 MM.
3. We find ourselves making this decision not because of Mayor Karl Dean or Mayor Bill Purcell or any of the Metro Councilmembers in the last 11 years. We are here because we built a building in 1996 without an anchor tenant. We built the building "on the come" as the cards players say. And with that decision came some risk. That risk has yielded a much more active and vibrant downtown. It demonstrated to all that Nashville believed in its downtown. But it has cost us money and will continue to cost us money.
4. Government is not immune from the consequences of less than perfect business decisions. If we build it, they will come is a nice catch phrase for a movie but not a sure-fire marketing plan. Having an empty $150MM building paid for by the taxpayers means a weaker bargaining position with those tenants - be they sports franchises or concert promoters or Tractor Pulls - and it costs us. In 1998, we cut the best deal we could to attract a team to our empty building. In 2007, we must do the same. Don't believe me? Just ask the owner of the Bellevue Mall.
5. Taking the "I don't want to get into the taxpayer's pocket" position and refusing to support
some deal will, in the end, get into the taxpayer's pocket. A Predators franchise will cost us money. An empty building will cost us more. I hate it, you hate it but it is an inescapable fact.
6. The time to object to sweetheart deals for sports franchises is BEFORE we invest in the buildings and equipment, not after.