Letter to Council Member Sledge

October 18, 2018

Dear Council Member Sledge,

Thank you for hosting a community meeting on Saturday, October 13, to discuss Belmont University’s proposal to construct an athletics facility and office building in E. S. Rose Park.

Although we had concerns about some aspects of the meeting, we appreciate and want to acknowledge especially your efforts to provide proper notice for the meeting, the recognition of community objections in your presentation, the candid information provided about Belmont’s planned exclusive use of much of the building, and your willingness to allow some space for strongly critical voices.

Following on the meeting – and based on the community priorities articulated or re-articulated as a part of it – we are writing to request urgently:

(1) that you refrain from filing the lease amendment in its current Belmont-authored, Belmont-focused form, and

(2) that you work openly with the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition toward substantial revisions that address the priorities of the community expressed at the meeting.

As you know, we see the lease amendment in its current form as unacceptable for many reasons. The revisions, if not the whole amendment, were written personally by Belmont University Vice President Jason Rogers and disregarded potential compromises that had been discussed with him, with you, and with others over many months. The terms of the revised lease amendment, its authorship by Belmont and for Belmont, and the way that it has been advanced – against the consistent, vocal opposition of neighborhood leaders – all perpetuate the problems of the first lease amendment rather than departing from them.

The amendment also does not reflect community input provided in the months since it was written. The changes written by Vice President Rogers, according to the document, were made between June 1 and June 27. Since that time you have convened at least three meetings involving members of the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition on July 31, September 19, and October 13. The current terms of the lease amendment do not reflect, to our knowledge, any of the community concerns expressed on these and other occasions.

The discussion at the October 13 community meeting has reopened the possibility of writing a lease amendment  through open processes and prioritizing public interests. Contributors to this discussion – including those attending the meeting at the request of Belmont and/or seeing possibilities for an indoor batting facility in Rose Park – agreed on the need to maximize the leverage of the Edgehill community for much-needed resources and community benefits. Participants across a range of perspectives also agree that these resources and benefits do not require the addition of a second floor with private Belmont offices.

The proposal to create Belmont-only, Christian-only office space in a public park for 30 years is legally objectionable, an insult to a religiously diverse neighborhood and public, and risks harm to the reputation of the city.

District 19 Council Member Freddie O’Connell stated in writing his commitment to the elimination of this aspect of the Belmont proposal in July, but it has remained one of many unchanged problems with the Belmont-authored lease amendment.

As a committee of the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition, we are confident that Edgehill community organizations and leaders will support an agreement with Belmont University that reflects:

(1) community-determined priorities,
(2) fiscally responsible financial terms,
(3) public policy common sense (specifically the obvious inappropriateness of private university offices and other exclusive uses of a Metro Parks building), and
(4) the long-term protection of Rose Park.

The absurd terms of last year’s lease amendment and the developments that followed have showed how far Belmont University was, and perhaps still is, from these values. But this is less a reflection on Belmont, which is acting in its own interests as a private institution, than an indication of the need for public interests to be represented.

Whether Belmont will agree to respect Edgehill, Rose Park, and the ethical stewardship of public land is up to Belmont. Whether we insist on that respect is up to us—and the integrity and quality of our Council representation.

The October 13 meeting showed that a community-determined and publicly responsible alternative to the current lease amendment is easily envisioned and practically within reach. Please work with us and others in our Coalition to achieve this.

Sincerely,

The Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition E. S. Rose Park Committee

Joel Dark, King Hollands, Avy Long, and Ben Tran