Friday, August 1, 2008

Why Is the Chamber Playing Possum with May Town?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2008 at 5:31 AM

click to enlarge possum.jpg
Earlier this year, developer Tony Giarratana unveiled plans for the May Town Center to a pro-biz crowd who gushed and swayed like love-struck school girls at a Maroon 5 concert. Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ralph Schultz may as well have waved a lighter (or a cell phone) as the developer began to wind down his talk. Later, a giddy Schulz would describe his reaction to the proposed $4 billion development as “excited, enthusiastic, ecstatic.” But like many teen romances, the biz pigs’ crush on Giarratana wilted when spring turned to summer. Last week, when the developer needed them to have his back, the Chamber cut and run. At last week’s debate before the Metro Planning Commission, the group's usual point men were AWOL. Giarratana’s only supporters were slick developer and PR-whores, most of whom stood to gain financially from the project. Of course, it would be one thing if the Chamber were merely taking the Karl Dean Tact and doing nothing. But as this Tennessean story noted, the group’s powerful PR firm, McNeely Pigott & Fox, is actually working on behalf of the neighbor’s who oppose May Town. Meanwhile, Keel Hunt, the former Chamber honcho and spokesman for Martha Ingram, is a part of the neighbor’s all-star cast of lobbyists and organizers. That all indicates that, behind the scenes, the biz pigs are trying to off this thing without spilling any blood. So why is the Chamber playing Switzerland? I’m hearing different theories, which may or may not be correct. But I'm feeling very City-Paperish today. So let's do some speculating, even though I may not know what I'm talking about. Theory 1: The Chamber, for once, is trying to protect downtown and thinks -- appropriately so -- that May Town will drive a knife through the heart of the city’s ever-transitional business district. We know downtown has a glut of office space. Why would Nashville's preeminent business group push for something that would only make that problem worse? Theory 2: The Chamber could give a shit about downtown; its members care more about safeguarding Cool Springs. It is the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, after all. I like this theory the most. It's funny. And true? Theory 3: Those Chamber folks are smarter than we think. They don’t want to follow the lead of Atlanta, which avidly encouraged development outside the downtown core to the city’s near ruin. They’re hip to modern sensibilities on how to grow a city in the era of high gas prices. (Infill, Infill, Infill.) And they realize that May Town is a rather antiquated idea. Does anyone buy the theory that the Chamber is that smart? Theory 4: They simply don’t trust Tony G. If Pith can give Giarratana a nickname, it would be Too Tall Tony. The guy has built some stylish high rises, but he has a habit of promising more than he can deliver. (See Tower, Signature.) Our biz pigs don't like that "all hat and no cattle" persona. It makes them look in the mirror. Theory 5: They simply don’t trust Jack May. People who first meet May, who owns the land where the development would be built, say that he’s a downright unpleasant fellow. And although he’s filthy rich, he typically ducks out of charity functions, which is a worse sin in Nashville society than belonging to a segregated country club. Also, the word is that May spends most of his time in Mexico. That would make him an absentee landlord to the 1000th degree. The Chamber doesn’t want to go to mobilize its infantry for a man in exile. Theory 6: They don’t want to get mired in another divisive public debate. Already the Chamber has been castigated for being the driving force behind the school board’s reseg plan. Now that many think either the mayor or a new board will come up with a new plan that both white and black people like, the Chamber may wind up suffering a very public humiliation. Of course, the pigs should be used to that by now. This is the same group that so avidly supported Pedro. How did that work out again...?

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