Jeff Syracuse Metro Council District 15
Transit Plan, Short Term Rentals, Major League Soccer, Recommend Infrastructure for Pennington Bend and the Full Story on the Dancing Lights of Christmas
Dear Friends –
Mayor Barry announced the comprehensive transit plan and proposal for what taxes would support it to Council Members on Tuesday, October 17th and was in conjunction with the Tennessee Public Transportation Association annual conference at Music City Center. The proposal will not include any property tax increase. The passage of the IMPROVE Act earlier this year by the State Legislature, in addition to funding road and bridge projects across the state, authorized local government to collect surcharges on various taxes and fees currently being assessed by the local government, if approved by voters by referendum. Metro will seek federal grants where available, while also proposing four surcharges to fund the project implementation and long-term maintenance of the system.
The proposal is as follows:
• One-half percent sales tax surcharge beginning in July of 2018 and graduating to one percent in 2023. A recent study released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce shows that nearly half (47%) of sales tax collections in Davidson County are generated by out-of-county residents.
• One-quarter percent surcharge on the hotel/motel tax, graduating to three-eighths of a percent in 2023. The Convention Center Authority, which is funded in part by local hotel taxes and fees, is anticipated to help pay for the transit system by constructing a SoBro station for light rail and rapid bus service. Additionally, the Metro Nashville Airport Authority has agreed in principle to fund a light rail spur from Murfreesboro Road to the Airport with terminal access.
• 20% surcharge on the rental car tax. Metro currently charges a 1 percent tax on the gross proceeds derived from the lease or rental of any passenger motor vehicle, truck or trailer for a period of five days or less. This 20% surcharge would result in a total of 1.2% surcharge on rental cars.
• 20% surcharge on the business and excise tax. Businesses in Davidson County are assessed a business and excise tax based on a variety of classifications established under TCA 67-4-708 . If a business currently pays $1,000 in such a tax, this surcharge would result in an additional $200 annually.
This proposal will come to Metro Council to vote whether or not to put it on the ballot as a referendum for the May 2018 ballot for the residents of Davidson County to vote on. In related news, I was happy to recently be part of an article written by David Plazas of The Tennessean title The Stakes in Nashville’s Transit Future: Getting Left Behind. It is a very thorough look at the situation we face and the major decisions we have before us.
At the October 3rd Council Meeting, BL2017-608 that would phase out non-owner occupied short-term rentals was deferred for the sixth time. Vice Mayor Briley put together an ad-hoc committee to study a possible compromise (specifics still unknown at this time) and so 608 was narrowly deferred until Jan 2, 2018, as it’s expected that a proposal for some sort of compromise will come to Council in December. While I’m open to learning about the compromise, I also understand that many neighborhoods feel under attack and have no recourse to deal with the negative issues that come with some non-owner occupied STR’s, especially in regards to enforcement. I have seen the number of permits steadily increase in the 15th District and so I decided to support 608 as I believed it would give neighborhoods solid grounding in order to achieve some stability while we wait on the compromise proposals and since it had been deferred five times already, I was ready to provide neighborhoods with some sense of relief. I know there are some non-owner occupied properties in the district that are high quality and do not cause any issues. I certainly recognize that and know that’s the case across the county as well. But, I will put the integrity and quality of life of our neighborhoods first and foremost. However, there are a couple of elements of the current situation that I deem positive. Even though it was deferred again, because it’s pending legislation, no additional non-owner occupied permits are being issued. Also, to address the enforcement issue, a 24/7 hotline has been established that will help direct resources more quickly to issues as they arise. All information about the hotline can be found here. A graphical representation of the process is below.
The prospect of bringing a Major League Soccer team to Nashville is both exciting and creates many questions as well as far as the impact to the tax payers and to the Fairgrounds. I attended the presentation to Council about the financing package and overall I thought it was positive and thankfully very different from the deals for Bridgestone Arena, Nissan Stadium and First Tennessee Park. The vote for this is likely to occur at the November 2nd Council Meeting, so I encourage feedback as always. The financing for the stadium will largely fall on the owners of the team. It was described as a 90 / 10 split with private money and revenues funding 90%. Metro will float the $200 million revenue bond, but the revenue from the stadium (including a surcharge on tickets) will go towards the debt payments. I have asked for some specific information about substantiation of the revenue and to review some sort of amortization schedule showing how this would work, but I do have confidence that the Ingram family, who are deeply rooted and committed to Nashville’s success, have put together an overall favorable proposal in my opinion that they are serious about succeeding. My other question remains about the impact to the future of the Fairgrounds. The proposed private development as part of the deal has many questions and the owners and administration have already tweaked the plan so that revenues from the private development are directed back into the Fairgrounds. The regular programming of the Fairgrounds should not be altered. Thus, with some specific questions being answered that would make me comfortable with the financing and ensuring no negative impact to the Fairgrounds, I’m poised to support it. There will be a public hearing on this on Tuesday, October 24th at 6pm at the Creative Arts Building at The Fairgrounds – 625 Smith Ave, Nashville, TN 37203.
I spend an extraordinary amount of time on Holiday Traffic issues in the Opry / Music Valley area and have always put the residents of Pennington Bend first. The situation with the Dancing Lights of Christmas is not something that just popped up as some have suggested. The owners put out a press release specifically mentioning that I “cancelled” their event. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is unfortunate that they stooped to dishonorable tactics in my opinion, and I’d like to set the record straight with the facts and chronological timeline of the efforts over the past few years.
- First, there is some confusion among some about the ownership and lease of the property where the Dancing Lights of Christmas show occurs. The Gleaves family has owned that property for many years. Jellystone Campground has a long-term ground lease to operate the campground. The Dancing Lights of Christmas is owned by Mike Scalf from East Tennessee and he had some sort of agreement to come to Nashville and operate the Light show during the Holiday Season.
- The 2014 Christmas Season saw a big increase in popularity in the Dancing Lights of Christmas show. Councilman Phil Claiborne put together meetings in the Summer of 2015 with everyone who either causes or deals with traffic, from TDOT, Metro Police, Metro Public Works, Ryman Hospitality, Opry Mills, the Light show, all the various small businesses along Music Valley Drive and surrounding area, and neighbors on both sides of Pennington Bend. The result was Metro Public Works hiring a consultant to look at what tweaks to traffic control and infrastructure improvements could be implemented. Some of the signage improvements were implemented, but the majority of the elements were deemed not possible by the property owners.
- I took office in September 2015 and put together a follow-up meeting in October to see what we could do to coordinate efforts. I took an approach looking at it from two aspects – 1) What could we do now to try and improve the situation, and 2) What does the area need for the long-term infrastructure improvement to improve the quality of life for both residents and visitors to the area, especially if more growth and development is to occur. At that point, it was largely too late to make any significant impact for the 2015 Holiday Season. As Nashville was growing, so was the popularity of the area as a regional tourist destination.
- I started early in 2016 to try and work with everyone involved in previous meetings to try and create a cohesive traffic plan for the entire area. Metro Public Works and the Metro Police Department are to be highly commended for their above and beyond efforts. Without a doubt, Opry Mills and Ryman Hospitality (Opryland Hotel, ICE, Grand Ole Opry) create a significant amount of traffic during the Holiday Season. But their activities occur on private property and they have tweaked plans, modified operations, and increased their efforts to control traffic as the needs arise. The Dancing Lights of Christmas left it to Metro PD to create a traffic plan that was largely focused on the amount of traffic they caused on public roads, mostly Music Valley Drive and Pennington Bend Road.
- While efforts continued with traffic control improvement, I began to meet with Ryman and Opry Mills to help me with long-term infrastructure needs. After a few meetings, they agreed to fund a cohesive infrastructure improvement study to put forth recommendations for what the area needs to manage traffic better and improve for future growth. Gresham, Smith & Partners won the bid for this project and began to work diligently.
- The 2016 Holiday Traffic Plan that was created by Metro Police was comprehensive and required the Lights to secure a permit to modify the normal flow of traffic on Music Valley Drive and route traffic at various intersections along Pennington Bend Road. The plan for the whole area consisted of 23 Officers, 3 Sergeants and a Lieutenant to oversee the plan on Fridays and Saturdays from 4-10pm when the traffic volume was at its peak. Since this required Officers to work beyond their normal shifts, it could not be mandated for the entire season. The first weekend of the plan was mandated (meaning, we, the tax payers, paid for it) to show its efficacy. It did indeed help, but it also routed traffic over Pennington Bend Road through the residential area and I know neighbors were not all that happy about it. There were few options as the area is only so big and every possible aspect was considered when coming up with this plan by Public Works and MNPD who are knowledge leaders about traffic control for special events. When the second weekend was not mandated and all police shifts were not able to be filled, the plan fell apart. I immediately asked the administration for the funding to mandate the plan for the remainder of the Holiday Season. At that point, I felt we were left with no choice but to ensure that the plan was funded in order to work. Thus, the tax payers paid for it. It did help at times. However, there were times when the traffic was so bad, it wouldn’t have mattered how many Officers were down there. There were occurrences of drivers treating the Officers disrespectfully as well. Big thanks to Barrett Hobbs with Scoreboard Bar & Grill for feeding the Officers who were working those shifts.
- The traffic volume increased again between the 2015 and 2016 Holiday Season. I held a follow-up meeting to discuss the traffic plan in late January 2017 at Grace Nazarene that likely had over a hundred in attendance. I was focused on ensuring the tax payers would not have to fund a traffic plan creation or management again. The Lights were told very early on that because of the growth of their event, they needed to be treated like any other special event in Nashville and come up with their own traffic plan to submit to Public Works to review and show improvement in their operations and logistics. Staging, advance ticketing and other suggestions were given to them by Public Works and Metro Police, but were ignored. Conference calls and meetings were held to try and help them and also clearly communicate what the requirements would be for the 2017 Holiday Season. The bottom line is they failed to ever submit a traffic plan or show how they would improve their operations. They were told clearly that if no traffic plan was submitted, they could not get a permit from Public Works. There were many months of opportunity for them to do so.
- Instead of following the same path that any other special event follows, the Lights hired an attorney. I met with him and delivered the same consistent message -- that his client failed to follow the same standard procedures as any other special event. Since they hired an attorney, I wanted to be sure all aspects of this situation were covered, so I asked Metro Planning to look into the zoning of this property to confirm whether or not they were able to operate such a large event. As it turns out, they were not. This is a “Temporary Festival” and the Lights had not been following the normal zoning and use permitting required as they should’ve been since the beginning. When they were a smaller event, they basically operated under the radar.
- In the end, the Lights decided to play the card of the victim and say that I was against a Veteran-owned business and even had one individual planted at the meeting from outside the community to accuse me of being anti-Christian and anti-Christmas. They claimed they were the “little guys” and being kicked out. On the contrary, if the math is accurate, they likely gross over $1,000,000 in revenue from their event in just several weeks. I submit that the “little guys” are the over 1,100 residents of Pennington Bend that I represent that have their quality of life compromised during the Holiday Season.
- I’m happy for the Lights that they found another location to operate where they can hopefully continue to grow and be successful. It’s curious their attorney argued at our meeting that they were unable to move so quickly and offered me a deal that if I were to help them with a permit, that they “may” only operate in that location for one more year. I was not interested in making any deals. I was only interested in his client following the rules like everyone else. My job is to represent the people and businesses that live and work here in the community 365 days a year. The small businesses (hotels and restaurants) showed quantifiable proof that because of the amount of traffic caused by the Light show, they lost significant business. Even with the Light show moving to another location, I continue to work hard on behalf of the area for a successful cohesive traffic management plan. As the area continues to grow, it needs to remain a strong focus.
- At the community meeting, Gresham, Smith & Partners presented a slideshow of the long-term infrastructure upgrades they recommend as part of the plan that Ryman and Mills paid for. The slides from that presentation are below.
Naomi Regensburg has served as District 15 Beautification Commissioner for the better part of twenty years. Her work has been extraordinary and she has served humbly and done so much for Donelson. She has decided not to renew her term and so it was my honor to present Naomi a proclamation at the Hip Donelson Farmer’s Market to recognize her service as she rolls off. I’d also like to give a warm welcome to Michele Mazzu, who has already hit the ground running. She has already implemented daffodil planting for our schools, researched programs that will make Donelson greener and has also joined the board of The Donelson Gateway Project.
Metro Government has launched hubNashville, a comprehensive customer service system that makes it easier for residents to connect with Metro representatives and address concerns ranging from potholes to code violations. hubNashville, a one-stop shop currently accessible by phone and online, allows the public to report issues to Metro without needing to know which department to contact. Trained representatives are available to answer questions, record feedback and help users request services from the appropriate departments. The website lets users follow the city’s progress toward resolving their requests and provides emailed updates to those who register with an email. The new website, initially available in English and Spanish, complements a call center that Metro expanded in July. The Metro Public Works Call Center has transitioned to the hubNashville Contact Center, which the public can reach by dialing 311 or (615) 862-5000.
The lights in the tunnels on the Greenway under Briley Parkway will be replaced and/or repaired soon. Thanks to Metro Parks for addressing this.
The 8th Annual Tennessee Beer & Wine Festival returns to the Two Rivers Mansion on Saturday, October 21st. Visit their website here for more info and to purchase tickets.
It was an honor to be in attendance for Jeannie Seely’s 50th Anniversary celebration as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and present a proclamation in her honor. I also had the pleasure of accompanying State Representative Bill Beck on stage at the Texas Troubadour Theater after the Opry show as he read a certificate signed by Governor Haslam honoring this milestone.
Tuesday, September 26th was National Voter Registration Day and I was honored to be asked to participate in an event at Grimey's New & Preloved Music featuring some great music and performances, including one of my favorites, the McCrary Sisters, who were accompanied by hit songwriter Danny Flowers. Thanks to HeadCount, Band Together TN and BriteHeart for making this event happen. As Tennessee is 50th in voter turnout, there's only one direction we can go... We absolutely need to do better and I'm ready to help. Please help spread the word and let's improve registration efforts and voter turnout. Don't forget you can register online now here.