A few weeks ago, Mayor Bill Purcell and his finance director, David Manning—some might say Finance Director David Manning and his mayor, Bill Purcell—took a stroll from the Ben West Building, where their offices are temporarily housed, over to the Metro courthouse, which is in the midst of a massive renovation project. The two gentlemen are known to keep a rather close eye on city affairs, so contractors on city projects are well advised to be on the lookout for such Friday-afternoon jaunts.
It was somewhere around 4 p.m., Manning recalls, when they arrived on the job site. And guess what? There were only a handful of people at work. The renovated courthouse represents a major civic undertaking and will figure as a key component of Purcell’s concrete-and-steel legacy. Oh, and it’s running behind schedule. Granted, a full construction workday generally starts in the early morning and ends mid-afternoon, but the men in charge wanted to see some around-the-clock progress. That afternoon, they found themselves exasperated, and Manning scheduled a meeting with the contractor.
“We’ve had an ongoing conversation about downtimes,” says Manning, cool as ever, in a conversation with the Scene. “The contractor’s been working regular shifts, and we’ve been encouraging them to work extra shifts. That’s been resolved now…. What we’ve been doing is to tell the contractor that we would like you to use the time you’ve got more effectively.”
In other words, the Manning Mafia paid Stan Hardaway a little visit—but instead of leaving a horse’s head in his bed, Metro will pay his construction company $395,000 to cover the cost of dealing with obstacles encountered in the course of construction. Specifically, Manning says, that means unforeseen problems installing elevator and stair shafts in the east and west sides of the building. “In return for resolving this issue, we wanted the contractor to schedule more shifts in the building,” says Manning. So after some negotiation, the city agreed to pay that contingency—in addition to $60,000 that’s already been paid on the elevator issue—to hurry up and get the work done. We’re paying overtime.
And then there’s the $354,500 Metro has agreed to pay Hardaway to get the streetscape work completed quickly on the James Robertson Parkway side of the building. “You always build in contingencies because you always run into problems you don’t expect,” Manning says. Yes, and contractors always try to maximize profit by grabbing those contingencies, don’t they? “It’s always a game….a tug-of-war,” says the finance chief, noting that Metro negotiated hard on these costs and remains “well within budget…. Obviously we will continue to be vigilant about this.”
The total cost of renovating the almost 70-year-old courthouse is $45.5 million. It’s part of a group of capital projects that also includes the construction of the Birch criminal justice building, a new public square and subterranean parking garage, as well as renovations to existing criminal justice facilities. In total, these projects cost $141.5 million, according to the Finance Department. The courthouse may be running late, but Manning says all the projects are fully funded and on budget.
In return for the $800,000 or so in payments, Manning says, Hardaway promises to complete the first three floors of the project by Aug. 31 and the remainder by Oct. 31. So why the hurry on those lower levels, you ask? And why the emphasis on getting the ground-level facades completed quickly? Perhaps because Purcell is planning to hold a massive public event Oct. 1 on the brand-new public square adjacent to the renovated courthouse. The city’s bicentennial birthday bash—timed to mark the 200th anniversary of Nashville’s incorporation as a city, sort of—will showcase the civic space it increasingly looks like Purcell regards as his legacy. He’d probably like to lead a few tours of his new office and the redeveloped Metro Council chambers, too. Presumably, that’s worth paying a little overtime to get those lower levels done soon.
The bicentennial bash will only kick off Purcell’s farewell tour, though. The mayor’s office is currently planning a months-long series of events under the theme “Celebrate Nashville,” the Scene has learned. Though the project is still on the drawing board, folks involved with it say it may last from Oct. 1, 2006, to July 4, 2007, and will seek to showcase what makes Nashville Nashville. “Look, we’re 200 years old. We need to celebrate some of the unique things about this city,” says one person involved with the project.
What’s unique about Nashville, not coincidentally, looks a lot like Purcell’s priorities for the 80 months he’s been running Metro—not that they’ve been bad ones. “Celebrate Nashville” will involve cultural events—at the new symphony hall, the Frist Center, the Farmers Market and Bicentennial Mall, just to name a few likely suspects—and will give a unifying, larger theme to a series of neighborhood events. It will mark the 50th anniversary of Music Row and the Country Music Association Awards’ 40th birthday. It will showcase the city’s educational institutions, its faith groups and its increasingly diverse blend of ethnicities.
“This is to be a celebration of what we are today as a city after 200 years incorporated as a city, as a town,” says one person involved with the project. “To celebrate the diversity, the food, music and culture. It’s a celebration of community, and a lot of that has to do with neighborhoods. The neighborhood movement has really come of age here in recent years.”
Over about the next month, “Celebrate Nashville” will move from ideas to action. Purcell’s office expects to set up a steering committee and several subcommittees—not unlike the convention center task force, except for a worthier cause—to really get the thing off the ground. Sure, it will be a victory lap for the mayor, but it also sounds kind of fun. Rumor is, Hizzoner wants to host Nashville’s first-ever hot chicken festival.
Mark your calendars: the civic (and mayoral) pride will start flowing full-force in less than six months. Between now and then, though, Purcell is scrambling, at some cost, to finish building his legacy so he can kick off his bon voyage with a bang. But hey, at least we’ll never have to buy it a new Jumbo-Tron.