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Last month, Major League Baseball celebrated the passing of one of baseball’s great institutions: Yankee Stadium, the home of the New York Yankees. Yankee players and ownership, national and international media, Yankee-lovers and Yankee-haters, all gathered for one last evening to say goodbye to a hallowed hall of sport. And across Manhattan, adults and babes wept.
If only Nashvillians could be so lucky.
Greer Stadium, the illustrious and decrepit home of our Nashville Sounds, was built in the late 1970s — and there’s little indication that it was a nice ballpark even then. Rather, the park was built to quickly attract minor league baseball back to the Nashville area. Now thirty years old, Greer has hosted over twelve million men, women, and children, and, even as a Greer-hater, I have to admit that it’s done its job. The ballpark is a great piece of Americana. And now, my friends, it’s time for the ballpark to host just one more guest: a fast-moving wrecking ball. (Hey, see how I used a McCain-ism to talk about something being decrepit and out-of-place? I’m good at blogging.)
When I moved back to Nashville after being away for twenty years, I was surprised that Greer was still standing, but I was encouraged by the city’s plans for a downtown ballpark. In fact, in late 2005, the Sounds and then-Mayor Bill Purcell signed a memorandum of agreement to push forward an exciting project. The agreement involved plans for a residential building, retail stores, and restaurants, and, at the heart of the construction, First Tennessee Field. The ballpark was to mirror the new Titans stadium– a riverfront destination for sports fans from across Middle Tennessee.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the mirror shattered soon after. Though it’s unclear what exactly happened, the project fell through when the parties failed to come to terms on the financing. While in other cities, including Reno, Nevada, and Columbus, Ohio, new ballparks were constructed with a combination of public and private finance, Nashville and the Sounds seem unable to work together. The city requires that the Sounds present a feasible ballpark plan, including residential and shopping options, before it will discuss finance. The Sounds, on the other hand, claim that they will not be able to structure such a deal without pre-approved financial backing from the city.
Part of the problem stems from the Sounds’ inability or unwillingness to abide by city ordinances. For example, at the beginning of the 2008 season, Greer Stadium remained in default of its city lease because the structure was not in compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Similarly, the team has angered the mayor’s office by pushing through funding legislation despite a lack of private financing. Essentially, the Sounds are requesting tax dollars and continued support from the city while refusing to abide by city ordinances and policy.
Certainly, there are other issues that we need to address as a city, but the damaged relationship between the Sounds and the city is unnecessary and painful for Nashville. While our sister cities in Tennessee, including Memphis, Jackson, and Chattanooga, have brand new ballparks, we’re left with decrepit luxury boxes, filthy bathrooms, and cracked seats. We present our city as the crown jewel of the South, but Greer is nothing to be proud of. If we’re going to be a real city– one worthy of a Presidential debate, the NFL, and Fortune 500 headquarters– every part of our town should be presentable.
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