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T Bone Burnett accuses Greer redevelopment critics of spreading a ‘damned lie.’
Michael Schwab/The Tennessean

Music producer T Bone Burnett, whose proposal to redevelop Nashville’s Greer Stadium has faced mounting pushback, lashed out at critics Monday, accusing them of provoking racial divisions and spreading a “damned lie.”

Burnett, who has teamed with developer Bert Mathews to propose a mixed-use, arts-centric proposal called Cloud Hill, made the remarks during a presentation on his plans before Metro Council’s Minority Caucus.

He went on the offensive, taking aim above all at the accusation that the proposal — a mix of creative space, housing, retail and park space — would uproot the graves of former slaves who built Fort Negley, a Civil Way-era fort next to the proposed development.

“There’s been a deception spread around town that comes down to this, ‘This Greer Stadium site is being sold with the city getting nothing for it and they’re going to put condos on African-American graves,” Burnett said during opening remarks that lasted more than 10 minutes. “There is not one part of that assertion that is true. 

More: Greer Stadium redevelopment faces mounting pushback in Metro Council

“That whole fabrication is a damned lie. Those who started this lie, who do not seek to unite us but rather seek to divide us — even in the face of the racial tension that has risen in our country as we saw two days ago in Charlottsville, Va. — those people should be ashamed of themselves.” 

Metro to conduct archaeological survey of Greer Stadium site

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Burnett said the Cloud Hill Partnership group plans to halt work where graves are found.

He also committed to letting Metro bring in an archaeological firm that will review the site before any development occurs — a request the council’s five at-large council members made in letter last month.

Mayor Megan Barry’s administration, which tapped the Cloud Hill team to redevelop Greer and supports its vision, has agreed to lead the archaeological effort. 

“The last thing our city needs right now is hate rooted in alternative facts,” Burnett said. “This cynical attempt to provoke racial discord is undiluted wickedness. Please, let’s calm this down. Please, let’s respect one another.

“I want to be final and definitive. There is no possible way we’re going to build anything on the graves of the people who built Fort Negley. If their graves are found there, all plans change.”

► More: Greer Stadium redevelopment team lays out vision to parks board

Burnett did not identify which critics he was referring to.

In the council, opposition to Burnett’s project has been led by the council’s Budget and Finance Committee Chairman John Cooper, who watched Burnett’s remarks from the front row of the council and did not pose any questions.

More: T Bone Burnett eyes legacy project at Greer Stadium: ‘This is my baby’

Minority caucus and Cooper’s at-large colleagues have expressed concerns as well.

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Music producer T Bone Burnett hopes to transform the old Sounds stadium site
Larry McCormack / The Tennessean

NAACP announces opposition to Greer proposal, seeks park instead

The group Friends of Fort Negley has pushed for a public park to be built instead of a development, an idea that is supported by nearly 1,400 people who have signed an online petition.

The Cloud Hill proposal has also garnered criticism from the Montgomery, Ala.-based Equal Justice Initiative, the Civil War Trust, and area historians who have cited the site’s African-American history.

► More: Alternative vision floated for Greer Stadium property: a city park

On Monday, the NAACP Nashville branch added to the opposition, delivering a letter to the council and Barry that says Fort Negley is “pivotal to Nashville’s African-American heritage.

“With its historic background, Nashville would make a terrible mistake to convert any portion of Fort Negley to private, for-profit development,” wrote Ludye Wallace, president of the Nashville NAACP Nashville Branch. “The land under Greer Stadium should be returned to Fort Negley Park and not given up for private development.”

Cloud Hill retools to target African-American community 

The Cloud Hill group has set out to address concerns of Nashville’s African-American leaders and council members, whose support is probably key to the project moving forward.

The group has a full-page advertisement in the most recent issue of the Tennessee Tribune, Nashville’s African-American newspaper.

They’ve also beefed up their public relations team by adding MEPR Agency, which has recently worked on Nashville’s National Museum for African American Music, for community outreach.

An advisory committee composed of stakeholders and descendants of slaves from Fort Negley, faith leaders, and others is also in the works to guide how to memorialize African Americans buried on the site.

From the beginning, Cloud Hill has vowed for 20 percent of project contracts to go to minority-owned businesses.

Burnett: ‘I have no interest in building condos’

On Monday, Burnett also challenged the line of attack that Metro would not reap any benefits from the land transaction.

He argued the proposal would lead to a $100 million private development that would unite Nashvillians and blend environmentalism, history and culture.

He recounted the history of Fort Negley, saying their project is intended to bring life to a historic site that many Nashvillians have forgotten.

He referred to the Cloud Hill team as a “place-making team,” not a development team, and noted that they are proposing a 99-year lease, not a full purchase of the property. 

► More: How much is Nashville’s Greer Stadium property worth? Proposed deal under scrutiny

He said the goal is for people from every neighborhood to feel welcome and safe and to create a place that connects people and communities.

“I am not a developer,” he said. “I am not a builder. I have no interest in building condos. I don’t want to build a high rise. I got into this to help clean-up and transform a deserted and distressed place right in the middle of town.”

An appraisal of the Greer Stadium land conducted in March by Nashville-based Neiman-Ross Associates — one commissioned by Metro — found Greer’s market value is $31.8 million based on the recent sale prices of comparable properties. 

Lingering skepticism for some on Metro Council 

Metro would retain ownership over the 99-year-lease. The developers would guarantee the city a payment of at least $1 million over 10 years and $7 million in infrastructure work for the site for needed roads, sidewalks and sewer work.

Metro and the developers would split revenue generated at the property, primarily rent collections, with Cloud Hill collecting 70 percent of the net cash flow.

The Cloud Hill plan includes 294 units of housing, around 80 set aside as affordable; “neighborhood-scale” market and retail, in addition to a dedicated park, open space and greenways. There also would be a cultural center for artists and musicians offering classes, maker space for artists, including filmmakers and musicians, and performance space.

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Barry’s administration has been forced to halt contract negotiations with Cloud Hill as a rival developer appeals Metro’s decision.

The proposal would include approval from the Metro parks board and council, where many council members have questions.

“When I look at the proposal it makes me wonder, who are we place making for? And is the place making that we’re creating the best way to honor the adjacent property and history there?” Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell said.

Dowell said she sees the Greer project as an opportunity to preserve and create something to honor its African-American legacy.

“I’m not confident with what I’m seeing that it’s the best way to honor it.”

Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236, jgarrison@tennessean.com and on Twitter @joeygarrison.

 

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