Belmont Vision  

Not-so-neighborly issues
BU plan for sports complex raises ire of Edgehill, others

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A schematic master plan shows potential improvements in the Edgehill neighborhood’s Rose Park. Belmont proposed to fund the project for the public park to create a sports complex for the university’s use while allowing the park’s continued use as a community park. Many residents of the area, however, have spoken against the plan, but no final decisions have been made about the park’s future.

More than a year after Belmont announced its desire to redevelop E.S. Rose Park on Edgehill Avenue, just a mile from campus, into a sports complex for its athletic teams and an improved asset for the neighborhood, opponents remain unconvinced of the university’s benevolence.

The Organized Neighbors of Edgehill, who represent the people currently using Rose Park, think Belmont will end up taking control of the park.

The Metro Board of Parks and Recreation has not yet approved any plans to move forward on the project, but a usage agreement is being tweaked before a decision is made, said Susan West, Belmont’s vice president for presidential affairs.

The university offered to fund renovations, a cost upwards of $6 million, in return for its use of the park for practices and competitions. The park will still belong to the government and will remain available to the public.

“Metro Parks approved the basic idea of the proposal and authorized the Parks Board Staff and University to begin discussions about a contract,” Jason Rogers, general counsel for Belmont, said.

Belmont’s on-campus athletic facilities are minimal, and currently the baseball, softball and track teams are using others’ facilities around Nashville. With the new complex at Rose Park, the soccer team and other outdoor sports teams will get to play on nearby fields which meet NCAA Division I standards.

Ronnie Greer, Metro Council representative for the 17th district, grew up in Edgehill and now represents a portion of it. He thinks there is great potential for the community with the development of the park. He said the problem is that the community’s discussion about the proposal was framed with a lack of information and even misinformation, generating community opposition.

“They fear that once the city gives [Belmont] the park then [Belmont will] take their properties and take the neighborhood over,” Greer said. “Right now the climate is not conducive to discussion if [Dr. Fisher] wants to have the support of the community. There is a contentious environment as it relates to the university with the community.”

Traffic problems, nearby school buildings and take-over by Belmont are all cited as problems with renovations. The Rev. Bill Barnes, retired pastor of Edgehill United Methodist Church and a member of the board of Organized Neighbors of Edgehill, is particularly opposed to Belmont’s renovations.

Barnes said that in a discussion he had with Fisher before this debate was brought into the limelight, he told the president that as long as the gouge in community’s use was not too deep, it might be a win-win situation. He later received a report from the Park Board which he said indicated there were serious conflicts between Belmont’s use and the community’s use of scheduled events.

“We’re convinced that Belmont’s redevelopment and use of that hill up there would be at the expense of the community’s uses,” Barnes said.

Belmont will literally take over the hillside, Barnes said.

University counsel Rogers, though, said the Belmont’s use on any field in the park would amount to no more than 20 percent of time in a year.
“That leaves 80 percent of use available to the community,” Rogers said. “We do not see the proposed improvement and use by Belmont as interfering with community use at all. There shouldn’t be a situation in which there is a conflict that can’t be worked around.”
But Barnes said he feels the community’s wishes are no longer under consideration.

“From the beginning, there was a three-legged stool: Belmont, the park board and the community,” he said. “Now it seems there is a two-legged stool. The community has [been] dropped out of it.”

In response, Rogers said the community has had numerous opportunities for input and they will continue to have the opportunities.

“At this stage, any legal agreement will have to be between Metro, which owns the property, and Belmont, which pays for the improvements,” Rogers said. “Metro Parks staff has been very clear that they want this agreement to address some of the concerns of the community. [We] continue to regard it as three-way relationship. It has a potential to be a win-win-win all the way around.”

Currently, on any given day children can be seen in the park.

“My mom told me she thought it would be a big negotiation, because what about the inner city kids and other kids who come over there?” Edgehill resident Michelle Hughes said. “That’s where they go and play and do activities and work and learn. My kids go over there for the after-school program in the [community] center.”

Another Edgehill resident, David Ivy, thinks it could be a positive development.

“As long as it would be available to the residents who live around there, then I’m all for it,” Ivy said. “It’s about time somebody did something. I grew up around here. It’s been the same old drug-dealing, gang-banging area. It’s time to do something new.”
Given Barnes’ opinion, he’d likely say Ivy doesn’t know enough about the proposal.

“The more people find out about the extent of Belmont’s plan, there doesn’t seem to be anything significant left for the community,” Barnes said.

Walter Simmons, who works for the Nashville Fire Department and uses the track at Rose Park for exercise, said he doesn’t think the park is kept up as it should be. He thought that if the renovations were made and more people used the fields, they would be better maintained.
At this point, Belmont administration is hopeful the renovations will eventually be made.

“The university is very optimistic we’ll be able to get to a point where all the parities involved will be happy with an arrangement,” Rogers said, “and we’ll be able to go forward with the improvement.”

 

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