Historic River To Ridge Community Benefits Agreement Town Hall Meeting Held Saturday

Sunday, March 10, 2019 - by Ella Kliger
- photo by Ella Kliger

A coalition met Saturday at Hope for the Inner City to build support for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the development of land on Roanoke Avenue. The property is owned by the city and has been vacant since the Harriet Tubman Homes, 440 public housing units, were demolished in 2014.

Residents, representatives from the seven coalition member groups, and other community stakeholders met across the street from the property to learn about the components of a CBA.

Used as a tool to hold developers accountable to the community, a CBA is typically advanced by a coalition after assessing and analyzing the priorities of the people who will be most impacted by the development. 

The coalition is composed of Hope for the Inner City, Unity Group of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Organized for Action, Chattanooga Area Labor Council, Glass House Collective, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, and Accountability for Taxpayer Money. During the introductions there was talk of working together for the greater good.

Quentin Lawrence, Deputy Executive Director of Hope for the Inner City, said, “Many of us representing different constituencies, many of us with different focuses in the area, we may have our differences on different things, but one thing that we are united on is the fact that for this, in particular, the Harriet Tubman site, that there is a need for a Community Benefits Agreement…This is really so that everyone’s voice in this community can be heard and represented.”

To explain the process to produce a CBA, Anne Barnett, Campaign & Community Coordinator of Central Labor Council in Nashville, was invited to talk about the CBA that was signed regarding a stadium on Labor Day, 2018. According to the coalition’s website Stand Up Nashville is a coalition of community organizations and labor unions that represent the working people of Nashville who have seen our city transformed by development, but have not shared in the benefits of that growth. We believe that development and growth are an opportunity to invest and strengthen all of our local communities.  

Ms. Barnett gave a brief history of circumstances that led to the creation of the coalition, including unsafe labor practices that contributed to a number of deaths on construction sites in Nashville and wage theft in the hospitality industry. The city was crafting incentives for developers and she described an “A ha” moment, “Why are our taxpayers going to pay for these projects where workers were being exploited?”

The project that spurred the group to action was the Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium that was being planned for Nashville. The city proposed a 99-year lease, the developers would keep all profits, plus the city offered a gift of 10 acres of land that could be developed as the developers wished.  According to Ms. Barnett, when the Metro Council took out bonds for the costs of rezoning and demolition, Stand Up Nashville met with council members about a CBA. 31 of 40 Nashville council members signed a letter that they would not vote yes on all aspects of the plan unless there was a CBA in effect with Stand Up Nashville.

City officials connected Stand UP Nashville to the developers and stepped aside for the negotiations. As Ms. Barnett detailed, there was a good reason for that. “It is very, very, very, very important that city officials not be at the negotiating table. Why? Well, number 1, it’s just the right thing to do, right? If it’s a Community Benefits Agreement, then it should be driven by the community. Number 2, if the city has a role in the negotiations then it’s opened up to State Pre-Emption. The state can say, ‘Oh, this is the city putting in these mandates, and if the developer has to do this, then we’re going to take that away.’” She described other ways that city officials can participate. “But, they can be cheerleaders outside all day long…appear at your press conferences, put out statements, talk to the media, say ‘Yes, I support this’, but cannot be part of the actual negotiation process.”

Some of the benefits to the community that were secured by Stand Up Nashville were commitments for a wage of $15.50 for stadium employees, at least 20 percent of housing stock would be affordable, and there would be a focus on Minority Business Participation for construction and concessions. Targeted Promise Zone Hiring would not just mean that local applications would be on the top of the pile. Barnett said that a position would be created to focus on recruiting employees locally as a priority, so that money would be kept locally, that it would benefit people in the area. “Not just an abstract program, an actual plan,” said Ms. Barnett.

After Ms. Barnett’s educational presentation, Dr. Everlena Holmes introduced the community participation activity: table discussion of what people want, and don’t want, in the CBA. “You’ve heard a lot about Area 3…this project is not just for the Avondale neighborhood. It’s for all of Area 3. One of the things that we are doing is trying to determine places that will benefit all of Area 3. So our new name is called Historic River-to-Ridge. That is from 1-24 to Chickamauga Creek, from the Tennessee River to Missionary Ridge.” That is an area encompassing 17 neighborhoods. Dr. Holmes struck a chord when she said, “If Nashville can do it, we can do it, too.”

Creating the CBA is a work in progress. Dr. Holmes explained how facilitators were seated around the room to guide conversations about what could be developed on this large piece of land. “This is what I call community engagement. I see some young people here. We have youth in the room, please get their input. We are trying to put together a 10-year plan. These will be the adults. I may not even be around. Make sure you get youth input, as well as Seniors…We need your input. Let’s get moving!”  Groups were given 20 minutes to brainstorm. One representative from each table was asked to present the information to the room.

In January, the 44-acre property on Roanoke Avenue was rezoned to M-1 industrial. This is the broadest level of industrial zoning and gives the opportunity for a variety of businesses and buildings to be placed in the neighborhood. There is a condition that the site cannot be used for a poultry processing plant. However, that leaves open a lot of options.  There were many suggestions reported to the gathering. Some ideas were concrete ideas such as a supermarket, day care, pharmacy, bank, covered bus stop, artists’ space, and a community garden. Other recommendations made had to do with other elements: no pollution production; numbers of jobs spelled out in the CBA with a claw back option if numbers were not met; apprenticeship programs, minority/unionized contractors, and a facility that valued jobs for people more highly than automation.

Youth input was gathered and communicated. Allen Shropshire, green|spaces’ Outreach Coordinator, was a facilitator who had several young people in his group. The energy he had when speaking of them showed how they impressed him. “The biggest thing was to see the young people more involved, engaged, because they are the future...It’s important to have more of an understanding of what they want in their community. To see that a kid who is in private school wants to help a kid who is in public school, for him to see the injustice of him having a better opportunity than the next kid, that’s important. They wanted to see a center where they are all connected, some type of major Rec (center) that’s a Rec for all of them, where everybody could come together, not just in one neighborhood.”

Unity Group Corresponding Secretary Eric Atkins thanked the coalition members and spoke of what lies ahead. “We do have some Next Steps to take. It cannot stop right here…We have to add people to this coalition. This has to be a growing movement, that we keep pushing forward together. It’s gonna take all of us coming together, taking these community surveys, from the community itself, so the residents can voice, just like we did today, some of these things that we want done.”

Elected officials were invited to come to the microphone. Councilman Anthony Byrd said, “Thank you all for having me, for having this, for having this amazing educational setting. Just want you all to know that hands down 100,000 percent behind this. You got my vote. I think this is something we should always do. We should come together more. I’m ready for the second meeting for this and I can’t wait to start putting these things in line so that the community, that the people can see that we are coming together. There’s going to be a lot of times where we disagree, there’s going to be a lot of times where we are going to sit down and have some very uncomfortable conversations. But I think that’s how families work. Today, I was enlightened and educated and I just think it’s an honor to be here. Thank you all for coming and please come back. Please stay a part of this because if we don’t do it, no one else will we have to do it together. So please come back and thank you all so much. You got my vote. Thank you.”

Ella Kliger      
ellakliger@gmail.com

- photo by Ella Kliger

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