Protect Nashville’s E. S. Rose Park

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.

In 2017, the Metro Nashville government approved an amendment to this lease supporting Belmont’s construction of a two-story athletics building in the park.

The building was misrepresented to Metro Council members and the Nashville public as a “batting cage structure,” and the process did not include any community meetings.

The Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition opposes the construction of the Belmont athletics building as currently proposed:

  1. to prevent a nationally unprecedented (to our knowledge) misuse of a public park, including the use of a Metro Nashville Parks building for the athletics offices of a private university that practices employment discrimination on the basis of religion;
  2. to protect the long-term future of E. S. Rose Park, which should serve the needs of our rapidly growing neighborhood and city, and which must not be allowed to become Belmont University’s permanent athletics complex; and
  3. to demand competent, transparent, and accountable Council representation for Edgehill and the fiscally responsible stewardship of public land.

Timeline and Documents

Why we should protect Rose Park for Edgehill

The original proposal for a two-story Belmont building in Rose Park was absurd in financial terms ($417/month lease fixed for over 30 years), in the location of the building on or near the Fort Morton historic site overlooking downtown, and in the reservation of the second floor of a public building for private (Belmont) use.

The revised proposal has not been published, but available information, including Belmont’s presentation at the July 10 Parks Board meeting, indicates that changes include a small increase in the size of  the building, its proposed relocation to the south side of Rose Park, and an annual grant of over $24,000 in addition to the lease for at least part of its duration.

Writing about the revised proposal in his July 6 newsletter, Council Member Sledge stated:

“I’ll put it bluntly: I don’t expect this to garner a lot of community support, at least from those with whom I have conversed over the last year.”

Both proposals are bad for Edgehill. We do not want Belmont University to build further in our community park. We need to work toward the restoration of Rose Park as a family-friendly, community park rather than making this increasingly difficult or even impossible.

The Rose Park Athletics Complex has been designed for organized athletic events that one would expect to find on a university campus. It does not prioritize the purpose of a public park for free and open access for spontaneous play and recreation.

The need for Rose Park as green space is increasing with the growth of the Edgehill neighborhood, whose population is expected to increase dramatically. “Major open space centered on E.S. Rose Park, Reservoir Park and the former Murrell elementary” was Goal 1 of Edgehill’s 2005 Detailed Neighborhood Design Plan, and this goal is even more important today.

Why we should protect Rose Park for Nashville

Both proposals are also a bad move for Nashville, which is facing a crisis of public trust and urgently needs demonstrations of accountability and transparency in decisions regarding the use of public land.

Authorizing Belmont’s construction of an athletics building in Rose Park would be the only such decision by a city government in the United States that we are aware of. Columbia University’s plan to build a university gym in Harlem’s Morningside Park is a famous exception, but this was in 1968 and was not allowed to happen even then.

If Belmont is allowed to build an athletics facility in Rose Park, Metro Nashville will have established a precedent affirming:

  1. the Metro Government’s support for private organizations to construct buildings in Metro parks without community support,
  2. the leasing of park land for private use and office space,
  3. the allocation of space in Metro Parks buildings for exclusively private use (in this case almost half of the building for more than 30 years), and
  4. the claim that the Parks policy requirement for community meetings is not applicable in these cases.

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

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