Protect Nashville’s E. S. Rose Park

Overview

From 2006 to 2010, the Organized Neighbors of  Edgehill (ONE) unsuccessfully sought to prevent a 40-year lease allowing the use of E. S. Rose Park by Belmont University athletics programs.

Since 2016, Belmont University has been seeking to expand its use of public land in Edgehill through the construction of  a two-story, 20,000+ square-foot athletics building — first directly in Rose Park and (since October or November of 2018) on the adjacent property of Rose Park Middle School.

Belmont’s decision to back away from construction in the park itself is a kind of victory for community efforts to protect the park.

Belmont’s new plan, however, continues to represent an objectionable misuse of public land for a private interest and is worse than the original proposal in directly rejecting important provisions of  2007 lease — including its 40-year limit and the reservation of scheduling rights to Metro.

Metro Government Support for Edgehill:
Mayor-elect John Cooper and Vice Mayor Jim Shulman

Mayor-elect John Cooper and Vice Mayor Jim Shulman have both supported Edgehill in protecting Rose Park.

Videos of their public statements of support are available on a Protect E.S. Rose Park YouTube channel.

Speaking in July at Edgehill Community Day in Rose Park, Mayor-elect Cooper encouraged Edgehill to protect its assets  from powerful interests:

“The first thing is to keep your assets for the community. And don’t let some other group, whether it’s a respected university or Metro Government, take your assets.”

“Belmont’s original batting cage proposal was not a cage; it was a building; and it was deceptive. I and others on the Council tried to help Edgehill push back on this enough [until] what happened is that they went into MNPS.”

Referring to Rose Park as “a treasure,” Cooper also called for steps to restore greater community use and enjoyment of  the park as a whole:

“It needs to be a treasure for the community and for those ball teams and for our young people to have routine access back to their own facilities. And until that happens, an injustice has been done.”

Speaking at the same event, Vice Mayor Shulman reiterated his opposition to the original 2007 lease of the park to Belmont:

“I was actually on the Council when this thing was done and voted against this because it is a limited amount of public space that belongs to the public. It does not belong to Belmont University, and I voted against it. It happened anyway, I know, but I voted against it.”

Why Nashville Should Protect E.S. Rose Park

The protection of Rose Park, including adjacent Rose Park Middle School property, is part of a larger urgent need to protect public land in Nashville and to improve accountability, competence, fairness, and fiscal responsibility in Metro Government land deals –especially those directly affecting parks, schools, and neighborhoods.

The lease of much of Rose Park to Belmont University in 2007 was an early Nashville case of a now-familiar pattern of selling or leasing historic and scenic resources in historically African American neighborhoods near downtown to private interests.

Nashville has experienced this more recently with development plans for Fort Negley and the proposed sale of the William Edmonson Park and Memoral Gardens on the Murrell School property.

Even having experienced and fought against urban renewal, Reverend Bill Barnes of the Edgehill United Methodist Church in 2007 said that Rose Park was a surprise.

“It’s nice to be 76 years old and still have some surprises. This is a surprise.

It is a surprise when I think of the decades of ministry with youth and children in the Edgehill community. When I think of that, and then we’re here to consider turning over a significant portion of a major recreational area in the community to university athletics. …

Brothers and sisters, to stand here and to say to you that this is a serious consideration that this park area be turned over to so much of intercollegiate athletics … Belmont has a six or seven [million] dollar check in its pocket it’s willing to spend in development. Please, why not somewhere else. It’s an honorable program. It needs to be done. It needs not to be done in the Edgehill community.

And if you think that a baseball field, softball field, soccer field, football field, and a running track … If you think all of those things can be used rather continuously by a university without infringing on the freedom of the community, then you will buy the Brooklyn Bridge for two dollars.”

A Detailed Neighborhood Design Plan for Edgehill in 2005 had identified “[m]ajor open space centered on E.S. Rose Park, Reservoir Park and the former Murrell elementary school sites” as the first element of its Structure Plan.

Speaking out (and voting) against Belmont’s plans in 2007, BZA member Elizabeth Surface echoed this priority:

“They want space. They want open space. I mean, Nashville is a growing and changing place, and this is an area that is very close to town. I should think would become more and more popular place to live. This is 40 years … I mean, 40 years.”

The new Belmont proposal would extend Belmont’s total use of Edgehill’s public land to at least around 60 years.

E.S. Rose Park can become a neighborhood, community, and public “treasure” — in the words of Mayor-elect Cooper — or it can become the permanent site of the NCAA athletics program of a rapidly growing private religious university — with an athletics building on adjacent school property for Belmont staff subject to religious requirements for employment.

There is also a spectrum of options in between.

Unfortunately, Belmont’s current determination to expand (and extend by at least two decades) its use of Edgehill’s public land confirms the warning of Reverend Barnes and others. The means by which it has attempted to do this also betray the trust of those who believed that Belmont’s ambitions could be limited by the terms of the 2007 lease agreement.

The leasing of scarce public park to a private religious institution was already a dangerous precedent for a growing and religiously diverse city in 2007. Leasing adjacent property for a Belmont athletics building with private, religiously exclusive offices would risk the permanent establishment of Belmont in the park and create an even worse precedent for Nashville.

Timeline and Documents

E.S. Rose Park history

E.S. Rose Park is a public park in Edgehill at 1000 Edgehill Avenue, east of 12th Avenue and adjacent to both Carter-Lawrence Elementary School and the Rose Park Middle School. It opened in 1963 as a segregated park for African Americans in Nashville and is 55 years old this year.

The site of E.S. Rose Park is central to the history of the Edgehill neighborhood. Beginning around 1830, former Nashville mayor Robert Brownlee Currey and other slaveholding white Nashvillians lived in country residences on and around Rose Park, then called Meridian Hill. Many African Americans worked in these homes and farms, but the rapid growth of the African American population of this area came with the Civil War. During these years, Meridian Hill became the site of Fort Morton (a companion to Fort Negley opposite the Franklin Turnpike), an African American “contraband camp,” and then “New Bethel,” the African American community that later developed into Edgehill.

Meridian Hill was proposed as a park (and reservoir) location as early as the 1880s but instead became a city quarry known as Rock Crusher Hill. The Civil War history of the site was not forgotten, and the Ku Klux Klan announced its return to Nashville at a cross burning there in 1923 attended by about 1,500 members and initiates.

The creation of E.S. Rose Park in the early 1960s occurred in the context of urban renewal, which reshaped much of the Edgehill neighborhood. The park was named in memory of Reverend E.S. Rose of the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Easley Memorial Center, was named in memory of Reverend Thomas Henry Easley of New Hope Baptist Church. The park served the Edgehill neighborhood and Nashville as an entirely public park for over four decades.

How is Belmont in a Nashville park?

The Metro Nashville Government approved the original Belmont-Rose Park lease in 2007. The Organized Neighbors of Edgehill (ONE) opposed the lease agreement through the legislative process, the courts, and direct protest. ONE lost its final judicial appeal at the end of 2009. In 2010 Metro Council Members Mike Jameson and Jamie Hollin filed — but then withdrew — a bill to rescind the Belmont-Rose Park lease on the basis of Nashville’s non-discrimination values and policies. Belmont proceeded with its construction plans and celebrated the opening of the current athletic complex in May 2011.

This history is recent and well documented online:

Belmont Vision, February 2005

Belmont News, January 2006

Nashville Scene, March 2007

Belmont Vision, April 2007

Parks Board minutes, May 2007

Parks Board minutes, September 2007

Belmont Vision, November 2007

State Appeals Court Ruling, December 2009

Belmont Vision, January 2010

Nashville Scene, December 2010

Belmont Vision, February 2011