In the Mel Gibson thriller Ransom, Gary Sinise plays a child abductor who winds up returning the kid that he snatched to collect the reward money. That's not entirely different from what Bud Adams did earlier this week when he initially offered $10 million to buy the Thermal plant site on the condition that it go to plug the shortfall in Metro's education budget.
On Friday, Adams rescinded his offer pending Metro's negotiations with the Sounds, who have proposed to build a new ballpark on that site. But the foolishness of Adams' gesture lingers, reminding Nashville yet again of how unlikable he is. Adams actually thought he could make himself look like a hero, when, in fact, he's one of the reasons why Metro is facing a tight budget in the first place.
Nashville spent $10.8 million in fiscal year 2003 paying back the bonds that helped build Bud Adams' stadium. Also, the city's parks department is in charge of the facility's upkeep, and Metro has to foot the bill for any cosmetic changes (like the new scoreboard we've been hearing about) that Adams deems necessary. If Adams really wanted to help Nashville, he'd call the mayor's office and talk about the options without standing in front of a mic or essentially writing a press release about the discussions. Isn't that the Texas way? Writing a letter publicizing an idea that you know will be widely reportedmaking you temporarily look like a modern-day Father Flanagansort of cancels out the purported generosity. Mercenary would a better word for it.
In one of Adams' letters to Purcell this week, the Titans owner writes, without an ounce of shame, that “it is obvious that you and I share a profound concern for the education of the children of Nashville.” Really? Well, if that's true, surely Adams could pick up the cost of the new scoreboard, which The Tennessean reports will cost about $250,000. That's also enough money for Metro to hire close to eight new teachers.
Or if Adams really shared a “profound concern” for education, why doesn't he cover the debt service on the stadium for a few years? Or agree to an increased ticket tax that would shift some of the stadium costs to the well-heeled Williamson Countians who have paid nothing on the upkeep of a stadium they nevertheless visit and enjoy.
Of course, in all of the above scenarios, Adams receives nothing for his generosity. With the deal he proposed, he would have extracted a prime piece of real estate from the city that he could sit on and sell for twice the current value in five years. And the city would probably have little control over his buyer. There might not be any safeguards in place to prevent him from selling the property to a used car dealer in five years, which would hardly be the optimal use for a primo piece of Riverfront property. Until then, Adams could use the space as a parking lot, which again, would hardly be the site's highest and best use.
Finally, if Adams really wanted to help the city, he wouldn't have made a low-ball offer on the property. Adams' $10 million proposal calls for the city to pick up the costs of bulldozing the plant. Given the environmental considerations that go into tearing down a waste-to-energy facility, Adams' deal is probably a few million dollars short of fair market value. By the way, if Adams really thought that he was offering fair market value for the property, he would have given the city more than a few months to entertain other offers on the land. Four years ago, the site was appraised at $9 million. And that was before the completion of the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge and the groundbreaking of a new symphony hall. The land is much more valuable now.
Whether Adams' bid to buy the property is a publicity stunt, or a devious way to shut out the Sounds (whose bid to use that site for a new ballpark is now in jeopardy), or a way to tweak Purcell is unclear. In the latter two scenarios, Adams might have thought that he could put Purcell in the position of having to choose between using the land to fund education or using it to make way for a baseball park. One way, Purcell makes Adams look like the hero. The other way, Purcell looks like just another mayor who puts sports above schools.
Actually, Adams won't have any luck doing that. After The Tennessean initially heralded his gesture like it was the second-coming of the Statue of Liberty, the coverage turned critical. Council member Mike Jameson ripped Adams in the City Paper on Friday, which, incidentally, has viewed this offer far more skeptically than its bigger rival. On Friday, The Tennessean's Tim Chavez hammered Adams, questioning his motives and the original deal that he got from the city. Even the paper's typically toothless editorial board cast doubt on Adams' motives, accurately noting that “Adams is not known for his grand gestures.”
As far as Adams' intentions, he had to have realized that his offer would threaten the Sounds proposal. His offer, even if it's been revoked, could still convince some council members to vote against the Sounds ballpark. And maybe that's exactly what he wants. The Sounds aren't a threat to the Titans dominance, but the minor league franchise might provide a cheaper alternative to companies who want to advertise at a big, public place but can't afford the Coliseum's rates. With no Sounds downtown and no Predators at all next year if the threatened NHL lockout becomes a reality, Adams' stranglehold on corporate sponsorships and luxury suites would be complete. Also, if Adams eventually fields an arena football team, crippling the Sounds certainly would help that interest.
Somehow the Purcell administration managed to spin the Adams deal in its favor, pointing out that the offer justified the decision to close the thermal plant in the first place. And while the mayor's public comments have been guarded, he hasn't openly criticized the proposal. Plenty of others are doing that for him.
In Ransom, Mel Gibson's lead character eventually realizes that the man who returns his son is actually the villain in disguise. Adams may not be a villain, but he's no hero either.