"Faced with political pressure from Mayor John Cooper and few financial details, Nashville’s Metro Council last week nonetheless approved a $44 million purchase of two properties at the abandoned Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch.
Cooper pitched the deal as a win-win for the southeast community – an area of town hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic and the city’s years-long trash debacle – promising Vanderbilt University Medical Center would open a mall-to-medicine concept facility there.
But no lease has been negotiated yet. There are no guarantees VUMC will actually lease the property, just a signed letter of intent. It’s likely the $44 million investment is just the beginning of mountains of spending that will be required to get the space usable, and maintain it.
Cooper announced the proposal just 27 days before the council would have the last chance to approve it before he presents a budget. The mayor justified the tight timeline citing the short schedules of passing two capital spending plans last year: 35 days for a $564 million CSP and 14 days for another $481.6 million.
Cooper’s political do-or-die timeline put council members in an impossible position.
At-Large Councilman Bob Mendes led the only serious opposition. His thorough analysis pointed out significant knowledge gaps surrounding the deal.
After discussion this week of just how little the council could know about the long term financial impact of the project, 28 members still voted to approve it.
Only three council members voted against the deal: Mendes, Russ Bradford and Ginny Welsch – good for them. Another four abstained.
The Hickory Hollow Mall deal appears more engineered for political gain – Cooper is up for reelection next year — and with possible challenges and failure to manage the southeast trash situation, he’ll need a major victory to win over voters in the southeast.
Sadly though, it seems Nashville leaders have become addicted to cavalierly issuing debt. Music City was ranked among the bottom 10 states for fiscal health this year by Truth in Accounting, with $19,800 in debt burden per taxpayer.
Nashville will now become $44 million more in debt, with no guarantee of having anything but a crumbling building to show for it."
Read the full article on: Main Street Nashville Editorial Board