Back in the farm community where I spent part of my deformative years, they still talk about how Donkey Allison got his house torn down. During the Depression, as the tale was passed on to me, Mr. Allison owned some property with an old, abandoned farmhouse he wanted to demolish. Unfortunately, nobody in Little River in those days had much in the way of ready money to hire a professional crew.
So Mr. Allison, the resourceful town postmaster, got together around $10 in loose change and went around the unwanted farmhouse, sticking coins into nooks and crannies, wedging them behind doorjambs and between floorboards and generally making the money inaccessible to anyone without a crowbar. Then he went over and told Billy Joe and Dolphus Irby that they were welcome to all the money in the place they could get to, and he wasn’t particular about how they got to it.
Within a week, the corncob-poor Irby brothers had reduced the two-story structure to a heap of boards, and all parties came away extremely satisfied with the deal.
I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Allison and Dolphus and Billy Joe (who grew up to be about the ignorantest football coach I ever had) last week after the announcement that the Sounds and the city had agreed on a new riverfront stadium. In fact, I think of the Irby boys just about every time I think of any of our municipally funded sports palaces. I can’t escape the suspicion (though I’m pretty sure it escaped Billy Joe and Dolphus) that, even though both parties got what they wanted, the wily dealmakers somehow wound up laughing at us behind our backs.
Let’s review. Nashville was desperate for a big-league sports franchise in the mid-1990s. We built an arena as bait. We snagged the Predators, who have greatly enriched both the city’s entertainment options and its downtown nightlife. On the other hand, we got the upkeep and maintenance costs, which seem to be endemic to stadium deals, but turned out to be more than we expected.
Bud Adams, on whom Donkey Allison had nothing when it came to wiles, saw how far Nashville was willing to go for pro sports and offered his team in return for a new stadium and a few considerations (like naming rights, concessions, parking and other ancillary revenues, and rights to use the venue on all but a handful of dates each year). Now we have a coliseum we pay to maintain but barely get to use without the team’s permission.
Yes, we got what we wanted: pro sports. But the experience has left me wondering whether we really want to build any more stadiums for anyone. For what it’s worth, there’s no record that even Billy Joe and Dolphus ever again agreed to demolish a house for piggy-bank change.
So please pardon me if I’m not ready to join in the general celebration that the deal for a downtown replacement for Greer Stadium is practically done. To be sure, the deal offers a number of things Nashville wants. For one, the Sounds desperately needed a new home. Greer Stadium was even more inadequate for the franchise than for the fans (though I wonder if it’s only coincidence that the general dilapidation seemed to grow in the past couple of years as the talks on a new venue progressed).
For another thing, the new downtown park will be an aesthetically pleasing replacement for the old Thermal Transfer Plant. Downtown bars and restaurants will benefit. And pairing the stadium project with residential development around Rolling Mill Hill has the potential by itself to make the whole enterprise worthwhile, just as one of the biggest benefits of the Coliseum was the redevelopment of the East Bank.
Overall, the mayor’s office has done a much better job this time around in looking after Nashville’s interests. Still, there are those niggling details—like the $17 million in tax increment financing and the provision to sell the land to the developer permanently instead of putting it under long-term lease—that leave open the sneaking possibility that we might get Donkey Allisoned again.
Nor am I yet convinced that the old thermal site represents the baseball Shangri-la that its proponents have claimed. Sure, a riverfront park works for Memphis, but here’s a flash: Nashville ain’t Memphis. The parking at Greer was free, and if you knew what you were doing, ingress and egress were easy. That won’t be the case downtown. And because (at least for most fans I know) going to a Sounds game has always been a fairly impulsive decision—much more like going to a movie than a Titans or Preds game—the cost of parking and the downtown hassle factor will deter some of us from making the effort.
The thermal site is such a prime location that Nashville should have had no trouble finding attractive development options. Meanwhile, for my money, the prime spot for a new ballpark paired with a residential development effort would have been the old location of Sulphur Dell, next to the Bicentennial Mall. The area is a natural spot for redevelopment that might not otherwise have occurred; it’s easier to reach than First Avenue, and a new Sulphur Dell could have housed a baseball museum that paid tribute to the greats of the Southern League and Negro Leagues who once played in the wonderfully quirky old park.
Of course, I got about as far with that idea as with my attempted veto last week when my wife and kids wanted to adopt another cat. Its name is Star, and, like this ballpark deal, I’ll eventually get over it.
How It Looks From the La-Z-Boy
Titans 24, Cleveland 20
Notre Dame 31, Tennessee 14
Florida 30, Vanderbilt 17
Alabama 30, Mississippi State 9
Auburn 35, Kentucky 10
South Carolina 23, Arkansas 20
LSU, Appalachian State 7
Penn State 27, Wisconsin 23