In an answer of sorts to The Amp Coalition's rollout in the lobby of Bridgestone Arena, the leaders of StopAmp.org Inc. summoned the press to Maggiano's Little Italy Wednesday to formally introduce a coalition of their own.
Both Lee Beaman, auto dealership king, and Richard L. Fulton, son of former Nashville mayor Dick Fulton, confirmed to the Scene earlier this month that they would co-chair a coalition of business and land owners along the West End corridor who are opposed The Amp.
Maggiano's has not taken a stance on The Amp one way or the other, which a representative from the restaurant made clear to media members. They were simply playing host to a group who had paid for use of their private dining space. (As it happens, Pith witnessed Beaman footing the bill.)
After some brief remarks by Dianne Ferrell Neal — an attorney and professor at Nashville School of Law who has been preaching the Stop Amp gospel in west side neighborhoods along with Vanderbilt University professor Malcom Getz — Beaman gave a statement of his own before introducing Fulton.
"We are deeply concerned about the negative impact that The Amp will have on the West End and Harding Road and downtown corridor," he said. "We have 450 employees who are deeply concerned that our loss in business is going to impact their ability to support their families."
Fulton, who joked that he is also known as "the son of," said he struggled with whether to go public with his opposition to Mayor Karl Dean's proposed bus rapid transit project.
"After he [his father] left his office, we have made it a point to never, ever, criticize or take opposition to what a following mayor proposed," Fulton said. "Until this issue arose. I can tell you, it has been a struggle with me as to whether to publicly oppose this. But the more that you look at The Amp and the things that are proposed with The Amp, we understand that this is not what we need in Nashville right now."
A commercial real estate veteran, Fulton said Nashville's problem when it comes to transportation is getting people in and out of town, to and from the suburbs, not through the city. He also decried a lack of community involvement in the process so far.
"The other thing that has concerned me through this whole process is the lack of community involvement," he said. "This is a plan that was developed from the top down, and not the bottom up. Any plan like this that is going to involve federal fund and local taxpayer dollars should have community involvement. And to this point, I have not seen that much community involvement. We would like to be part of the planning process, not being told what we have to do to follow the process."
Joining Beaman and Fulton at the lectern was longtime Metro traffic and parking official and, most recently, the Dean-appointed chairman of Metro's Traffic and Parking Commission, Gene Ward.
"I put the first parking meters in Nashville, years ago," Ward said. "And along the corridor, I put in practically all the loading zones and cab stands and so forth. And it bothers me when I think what will happen if The Amp system is approved."
Along with concerns about emergency vehicles being able to move up and down the corridor effectively, and the potential for costs exceeding the planned $175 million — "I've never seen a government project yet that finished on budget," Ward said — he also said that signal extenders that would allow The Amp to make it through traffic lights along the route would undo years of traffic engineering.
"Our traffic engineers down through the years spent a lot of time timing these signals and trying to get progression for traffic," Ward said. "This is going to do away with progression, because every time one of these Amp busses approaches a red light, or signal, it can turn the light green. That means the side streets have to wait longer to get out."
To close things out, before meeting with members of the group privately, Beaman issued a challenge — or rather, accepted a previous offer, as he framed it — to debate members of The Amp Coalition at Montgomery Bell Academy. He said the school has offered to host such an event on Dec. 9, 10 or 11.
UPDATE (4:45 p.m.): The Amp Coalition has responded via a statement.
Dr. Mike Schatzlein, CEO of St. Thomas Hospitals and the chairman of the Amp Coalition, said that the Amp is "incredibly important for the future of our city.
"We encourage all Middle Tennesseans to learn more about the Amp, ask questions and express their opinions. Since our Coalition formed seven weeks ago, we have participated in 17 community meetings, with more to come. We will continue to share information about the Amp through presentations, social media, public forums and other outreach efforts. We encourage people with questions about the Amp to learn more about the project by visiting the MTA website, www.nashvillemta-amp.org.
We welcome the opportunity to talk with anyone about the Amp, but prefer a dialogue rather than a “debate,” to address these very important issues in a civil way."