There is a Venn Diagram to be made out of the color-coded constituencies that have been crowding the Metro Courthouse in recent weeks.
In green are supporters of The Amp, Mayor Karl Dean's proposed bus rapid transit line that will connect East Nahville to West by way of the West End/Broadway corridor. The project scored its first victory earlier this month when the Metro Council approved $7.5 million for final design and engineering, included in Dean's capital spending plan. At a recent public hearing, its backers noticeably overlapped with the crowd that previously cheered the Music City Center — which, sadly, never adopted a color — headlined by hotel executives and restaurant owners.
Opponents of The Amp, who accuse officials of fast-tracking a project they say will be bad for West End and would be better on Charlotte, are in red. That's convenient, given that the group's public representatives overlap with the self-described Red Army, supporters of the beleaguered Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Save Our Fairgrounds lobbyist Rick Williams is among the leaders of the group BRT Concerns, and some of the red shirts worn by anti-Amp speakers at the council's recent hearing were actually Save Our Fairgrounds shirts left over from the 2011 battle over the property's fate.
That continuity shows up on the council as well, where some of the most vehement opponents of The Amp — such as council members Tony Tenpenny and Robert Duvall — are also among the fairgrounds' most outspoken supporters.
The Green Machine isn't likely to fill the chambers again soon, since The Amp won't reappear on the council's agenda for some time. What council members can expect to see a lot of in coming months is fairgrounds red.
Part of the deal that bailed the mayor and the council out of the unpopular plan to raze and redevelop the fairgrounds was the commissioning of a master plan that would lay out a variety of options for the property's future. Nine months later, in the 2011 county elections, citizens made plain their feelings on that matter when 71 percent voted in favor of continuing the current uses — a state fair, expo center, flea market and auto racing — and raising the threshold for abandoning them from 21 to 27 council votes.
That sequence of events has led to a somewhat odd scenario two years later, as questions linger about the fairgrounds' future. Earlier this month, the council approved the addition of, among other things, a $200,000 subsidy for the property to Dean's recommended budget. But the funds are contingent upon the council taking action on the master plan. In other words, they must reconsider a matter that has been overwhelmingly decided by the voters.
The master plan is littered with political landmines. It contains several scenarios for either redeveloping the property, as Dean previously proposed, or upgrading it and maintaining its current uses. The two scenarios singled out for comparison in the plan are one for mixed-use development and another that imagines revamping the fairgrounds minus the racetrack — the primary point of contention during the debate. Either scenario is sure to start a fight.
Council members indicate that discussions about the master plan could begin next month, in the form of open work sessions involving multiple council committees. Fairgrounds activists say the council should keep in mind the people who put them in their seats. Shane Smiley, a dedicated Save Our Fairgrounds member and racetrack enthusiast, tells the Scene he plans to distribute statistics from the 2011 elections, to remind council members that the fairgrounds referendum received more votes that year than most of them did.
As it happens, though, there is a line the council can walk. Council attorney Jon Cooper confirms to the Scene that the terms of the recently approved subsidy do not "require the council to actually approve one of the options" in the master plan. As Councilman Duane Dominy, one of the fairgrounds' foremost defenders, puts it: All the council has to do is put it on the agenda.
If they go further than that, expect the courthouse to be standing room only, in living color.