The West Nashville stop of a four-night public meeting tour on The Amp is changing locations after political pressure led Montgomery Bell Academy to back out of hosting the event.
Word Tuesday afternoon amongst opponents of Mayor Karl Dean's proposed bus rapid transit project was that the west side private school had decided against hosting the meeting amidst pressure regarding the meeting's format. The Tennessean reported this morning that MBA had backed out and that the Jan. 16 meeting has been moved to West End Middle School.
At a press conference in November, the opposition group Stop Amp issued a debate challenge to their counterparts at The Amp Coalition and said that MBA had agreed to host the debate on one of three dates in early December. The Coalition — a group backed by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and led by Dr. Mike Schatzlein, CEO of St. Thomas Hospitals — declined that invitation.
In December, the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority announced four public meetings in different parts of the city, one of which was to be held at MBA. And since then, the school's headmaster Brad Gioia says he received a torrent of phone calls from people upset about MBA's apparent endorsement of the project.
"It's not that I love The Amp or do not love The Amp," he tells Pith. "It's that I love MBA. And when I felt there were so many people calling me and saying 'it's unfair for you to have this at MBA because it looks as if MBA is supporting The Amp' I got tired of fielding those phone calls. And felt, that was never my intention, I was just trying to hold a public forum — actually I was trying to hold a debate — but MTA doesn't view itself as a political entity."
Gioia goes on to add that he feels good about how the mayor and MTA are approaching the meetings.
"I feel really good about the mayor's office and the MTA group," he says. "I feel like they're just trying to do what they think's best for the city, whether I agree that it's the right thing or not. I felt good that they were going to welcome criticism, but when I knew that they wouldn't entertain a debate and I knew that there was such heated emotion on both sides, I just felt this wasn't going to be very healthy for MBA."
Addressing speculation that he was "bossed around" and told not to host the meeting, Gioia says there are MBA board members who are opposed to The Amp and others who are for it, but that it was his decision to back away from hosting the meeting.
MTA spokeswoman Holly McCall says if Stop Amp wants a debate, they should take that up with The Amp Coalition. The MTA, she says, is just "trying to get some actual input on the design."
That's just the problem, says Rick Williams, the chairman of the board of Stop Amp, who says he was among those telling Gioia that hosting the meeting made it appear as if the MBA was endorsing The Amp.
"They're taking the position, oh this is going to happen, come here and help design it," he says. "We're still back here like, wait a minute you don't have it approved yet, why are you designing it? They're saying, 'oh don't worry about the approval, we got that, come help us design it."
Williams suggests that the pro-Amp side doesn't want an open debate because they'd lose.
"You let me get 10 citizens in the room that don't know anything about it and I'll let both sides present and I'll say 7 of them will come away with an "I don't want to do that" attitude," he says.
McCall, who previously worked as a spokeswoman on the Music City Center project and was moved in December from a position at the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency over to the MTA, says The Amp's route is the only thing set in stone — it will run along West End. It's stations, she says, are "roughly in place" but minor changes can still be made. Thats why she says the public meetings are an opportunity for real input that will truly shape the project.
"We're charged with making this project work," she says. "We're not trying to shove a bad project down people's throat. People have been saying they want input, so we've set up these four meetings so people can actually come with a Sharpie or a post-it note and look at their property and if there's a problem we'll try to figure it out."
Project engineers, along with staff from Metro's Public Works and Planning departments will be on hand, and McCall says they will work to address concerns or fix problems wherever they can.
"I talked to a resident along West End who is generally supportive of the project but has issues with a driveway," she says. "Alright, let's see if we can find a way to work that out. So there is huge opportunity for input at a very granular level."
Four public meetings are scheduled for next week:
Monday, January 13, 5:30 p.m.
East Park Community Center theater
600 Woodland Street
Nashville, TN 37206
Tuesday, January 14, 5:00 p.m.
Nashville Downtown Partnership
150 4th Ave., N., Ste. G-150
Nashville, TN 37219
Wednesday, January 15, 5:30 p.m.
Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation, large conference room
2565 Park Plaza (near Centennial Park)
Nashville, TN 37203
Thursday, January 16, 5:30 p.m.
West End Middle School
3529 West End Ave
Nashville, TN 37205