It was a quiet and snowy night here in Old Hickory and the girls were snuggled up in front of the TV so I took some time to peruse the 700 pages of emails Mike Byrd obtained from Fairgrounds Director Buck Dozier’s account via a Freedom of Information Act request. Yeah, I know there is much more stimulating reading, but while I appreciated Mike’s analysis I wanted get a sense of how the fairgrounds was preparing for the proposed move to Hickory Hollow (which has since been abandoned) and the closing of the property. Here’s what I learned:
- Buck Dozier gets a lot of unsolicited junk e-mail. Of the 700 e-mails, at least half were announcements from promoters asking the fairgrounds to book their events. Apparently the “tribute” band business is going strong, for almost all the inquiries were related to this type of entertainment.
- Mr. Dozier and staff were not enamored with the report from the Nashville Civic Design Center. This report arose from public meetings on the future of the fairgrounds at the behest of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. During the “public” portions of this process there was criticism by those now known as preservationists that the there was inadequate opportunity for public comment. The report was supposed to guide the Fair Board and Mayor on future directions, ultimately suggesting that a master plan needed to be developed. When the report was leaked to the press and then rushed into release, a former staffer emailed Mr. Dozier and asked, “Did you have to pay for THAT?” Mr. Dozier replied that the fair board was indeed charged for producing the report and that it cost around $30,ooo to produce. “You can pick yourself up off the floor,” he joked when mentioning the cost. In a later e-mail he told another staff member that apparently they had paid over $30,000 to learn that “…Metro needs to hire a planner.” The report seemed to have little impact on discussions about the future of the fairgrounds.
- The fairgrounds staff was kept in the dark about the Hickory Hollow proposal and not asked for input on the feasibility of the plan.
It’s this last point that is most striking to me, for there were several e-mails from staff expressing concerns about the ability of the Hickory Hollow property to adequately meet the needs of Expo Center vendors. One e-mail offered an analysis as to why the old Expo building at One Hundred Oaks was superior in meeting the needs of the Expo center and pointed out many flaws in the Dillards property. These e-mails came AFTER the mayor announced the plan, and for many weeks following Mr. Dozier attempted to get the mayor’s office to address issues in ingress and egress from the building, expressing concern that there weren’t enough entrances for vendor access. When asked about issues by his staff, Mr. Dozier communicated that the issues of concern were the responsibility of the administration and that they would figure out the answers along the way.
From these e-mails it seems clear to me that the administration floated a proposal without a plan, leaving themselves wide open to critique, ultimately leading to the demise of the project. In essence they failed to do their homework on the front end, creating a comprehensive plan for the success of the project that could then be used to address the natural critique that would arise in response to the plan. There were lots of questions, but few answers, making vendors uneasy and ultimately unwilling to make the move.
This is what I think the administration has failed to recognize – the need and desire for clear-cut plans. It wouldn’t take much – a visit with a few staffers and someone who knows enough about a drawing program to draw up blueprints to hand out to media, vendors, and critics alike. It was this lack of a plan – and the unwillingness to create one – that led folks in Antioch to question whether this was a good thing for their community. Ultimately the administration proposal failed because of the failure to plan proactively.
If I’ve learned anything as a pastor, attempting to lead folks through change, it’s that I need to make sure my ducks are in a row before I throw out radical changes to the congregation. When I fail to do so, the angst rises and the chances of seeing change happen become severely reduced. It doesn’t take much, but it does require a bit of work on the front end to get a payoff later on.
I wonder how this entire conversation would have been different if there was indeed a viable plan presented for moving the Expo Center?