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August, 2008

Revised February 8, 2010

Written By

Lisa Leeds


Thomas Watson

3D Illustrations


Thomas Watson

You see things; and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"

George Benard Shaw, "Back to Methuselah" (1921), part 1, act 1

The Fairground Heritage Preservation Group Is a group of concerned citizens, banded together to foster the preservation and quality of this community resource that has been handed down to us from past generations. This resource not only has a rich history of its own, but dates back to the original founding of Nashville. We believe that history can be equally, if not more, important than "the bottom line" and that history can do more to build pride in the community and maintain a quality of life for the residents than "condos" and "strip malls."



Who we are

We are simply a group of concerned citizens with an interest in the future of the fairgrounds. We include people from all walks of life, citizens of Davidson County for the most part, but also citizens of other parts of Tennessee, and other parts of the country. Some of us live far away, and some of us live right next door to the fairgrounds. But all of us share a concern for the future of this resource.

About the suggestions of this proposal

We understand that not everyone will share in our visions of a redeveloped fairgrounds. We also understand that there are practical reasons why some of these proposals would not be adopted. We further understand that specific designs can vary.

But what we really hope to accomplish is to demonstrate that with a bit of imagination and yes, even a few dreams, the fairgrounds have the potential to become a centerpiece for the community and the state.

So even if you don’t like a particular proposal or a particular design that we have presented here, we hope that you can still see the potential, and dream a little bit yourself.

About the illustrations

We have used 3D computer modeling to visually present most of our suggestions and ideas. However, in producing these illustrations we did not have access to blueprints, engineering drawings, or even maps. Most of the illustrations were based on the Google Maps satellite view of the fairgrounds along with a few photographs.

So while some things are not exact, we have tried to maintain proportions and spatial relationships of the various features.

Scaling may not always be exact or precise, but we are attempting to stimulate your imagination, not produce engineering drawings or architect’s blueprints. And the same goes for some of the details of proposed and existing features—some objects may not look exactly as they do in the real world, and some objects, both existing and proposed may lack some details.

Although we did model the entire fairgrounds and part of the adjacent areas, as a practical matter, it was not feasible to model the entire city of Nashville surrounding the fairgrounds. Therefore you will see some places, particularly roads and such, that just simply end in a clump of trees that may not actually exist in the real world.


So overall, these illustrations are not perfect, nor were they meant to be. They are simply “sketches” presented as just another tool to spark your imagination.


Where to begin?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

A brief history

The property of the State Fairgrounds is a property rich in history, dating back to the time before there even was a state of Tennessee or a city of Nashville. The fairgrounds are the largest and last portion of a 640 acre tract of land belonging to an early settler, John Rains. Rains was given that section of land by the new United States as a reward for service in the Revolutionary War, as was the custom with soldiers of the Revolution. At that time, there was no state of Tennessee, and the area was a part of North Carolina, inhabited only by the Native Americans.

This practice of rewarding soldiers with land for their military service ensured that the frontiers of the new country were settled by loyal and hardy men.

Rains, originally a native of Virginia, set out with his family to claim his land grant along the Cumberland River, and along the way met up with a group of other Revolutionary veterans led by James Robertson. And so on Christmas day of 1779, Rains and his family crossed the frozen Cumberland River along with 200 other settlers to found what would become the city of Nashville.

While Robertson built Fort Nashboro, Rains built another blockhouse fort in the center of his property (approximately where the public television station sits on Rains Road) that served to help fortify the new city. Water for the Rains family came from a spring close to what is now the Nolensville Road entrance to the State Fairgrounds.

Rains is credited with bringing the first herds of cattle and horses to the region, and his herds grazed in what is now the fairgrounds along Brown’s Creek, and his crops grew on the hill overlooking the area.

The area prospered and in 1784, the state of North Carolina incorporated the city of Nashville at what was then known as Fort Nashboro. In 1796, after North Carolina had ceded its land to the United States, the state of Tennessee was admitted to the union.

The current Tennessee State Fairgrounds grew from the sport of harness racing, which was quite popular not only in Nashville, but nationwide in the latter part of the 19 th century.

Originally built and funded by private individuals, an organization of harness racing owners and breeders eventually took over the race track at its present location, known then as “Cumberland Park.”


The area around Franklin Pike boasted several noted stables, including Bell Meade, Traveler’s Rest, and Hermitage Stud. A road was built to connect these stables to the race track, and named “Wedgewood” in honor of Hermitage Stud’s most noted horse.

Harness racing was the “NASCAR” of its day, and races and events at the Nashville track were regularly reported across the country in newspapers such as the New York Times 1 during the 1880’s.

“Horseless carriage” racing started at the racetrack on June 11, 1904 with the first auto race. That race ended when a motorcycle rear-ended an automobile. 2

However the next race, in September of that year, was more successful pitting many of the drivers from the 1904 World’s Fair including legendary Indy-racing pioneer Barney Oldfield, in a heated race. Spectators marveled at cars speeding along at more than 60 miles per hour! 3

at cars speeding along at more than 60 miles per hour! 3 Figure 1 - State

Figure 1 - State Fairgrounds circa 1910

But the race track was pretty much still devoted to the sport of harness racing until 1909, when the State of Tennessee criminalized gambling in the state. Since gambling is pretty much the basis of funding for horse races, this made it no longer viable for the breeders to operate the track. Also the property had been used as a fairground for several years, and the State wanted a permanent site for a State Fair.

In his 1909 “State of the State” address, Governor Patterson stated, “I call your attention to the proposition for an agricultural fair to be established at Nashville as a permanent State institution; and, in my opinion, this should meet with your approbation.”

1 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9900E2DA1F39E533A25752C1A9649C94679FD7CF

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_City_Motorplex

3 Ibid.


In February, 1909 the Legislature passed a bill (Act 42) authorizing Davidson County to issue bonds for $150,000 to purchase the property “upon which there shall be established and maintained permanently a State Fair.”

Later in 1909, the State reached an agreement with Davidson County to acquire the property, and included in the County Charter is the provision that the county operate the designated state fair on that property. The provisions of this section of the County Charter will be presented later in this document.

The track and auto-racing activities continued to grow and prosper at the track, and even horse racing continued in limited fashion. Since this was a dirt track, both sports could co-exist.

Since this was a dirt track, both sports could co-exist. Figure 2 - Auto racing at

Figure 2 - Auto racing at the fairgrounds circa 1910

However, the next big event in the history of the fairgrounds had nothing to do with the racing of either horses or automobiles.

In June, 1910, the U.S. War Department held a huge military exposition and maneuvers at the fairgrounds. Over 20,000 persons attended the event to watch demonstrations of the latest from the U.S. Cavalry and artillery units. The Secretary of War himself presided over the event.

But the true hit of the show was the latest idea in military hardware, the “aeroplane.” Only seven years after the Wright brothers’ historic first flights, most Americans, and certainly most Tennesseans had never actually seen an aircraft.


The War Department had hired noted airman Charles Keener Hamilton to demonstrate the capabilities of this new machine, including dropping bombs from the air. This would be only the second time that bombs had been dropped from an airplane.

And while the audiences were awed by the dropping bombs and Hamilton’s dare-devil tactics, the really big event happened on the night of June 22 when Hamilton strapped a searchlight onto his aircraft and made the first night flight in aviation history, taking off from the racetrack straightaway.

history, taking off from the racetrack straightaway. Figure 3 - Charles K. Hamilton in his Curtiss

Figure 3 - Charles K. Hamilton in his Curtiss "flyer"

Harness racing continued to be a popular sport and created another unusual event at the fairgrounds.

During the 1890’s the record for a 2-minute mile by a trotting horse was broken by noted racer John R. Gentry. Gentry was retired in 1900 and sent to his retirement at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds along with his trainer, Sam Seay, who was given a special apartment adjoining the stables.

John R. Gentry lived there until his death in 1920 at age 32- the oldest living racer at the time. A huge funeral was held at the racetrack, attended by hundreds, and was officiated by the Reverend George Stoves and eulogized by Tennessee poet laureate John Trotwood Moore.

John R. Gentry was buried in the infield of the racetrack where he still rests today.


However, horse racing was on the wane by the 50’s and as a result of the Fair Board granting a 10-year lease, with a 20-year extension, promoters paved the track in 1958. A new dirt track was built in Brentwood for the benefit of the horse races.

NASCAR sanctioned the revamped track, and Nashville was home to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series from 1958-1985. 1958 was also the beginning of the NASCAR All American 400 Series which continues to run to this day.

The track, renamed the Music City Motorplex in 2004, celebrates its 50 th year as a NASCAR sanctioned track this year.

And during that time, some of the NASCAR “greats” have raced and won here—Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Geoffery Bodine, Bill Elliot, Bobby Allison-- and even country music star Marty Robbins.

Local resident “Coo Coo” Marlin started a 3-generation dynasty of NASCAR winners by being the first driver to win back-to-back championships in 1965 and 1966 and his son Sterling Marlin became the first driver to win three back-to-back championships at Nashville. His son and daughter, Steadman and Sutherlin Marlin, are well on their way to establishing the third generation of this local racing family.

The 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s saw the track move forward with weekly races being held each week of the racing season. However, in 1985, NASCAR removed the Winston Cup Races, citing limited grandstand sized, and also a management dispute. 4

In 2007, NASCAR added two regional series races at the Motorplex, The Camping World East Series and the Southern Region Whelen Modifieds race. 5

During the 2007 season, over 100 drivers registered NASCAR points running in only three divisions at Music City Motorplex. According to stockcarracing.com,

“Any pavement short track in America would be very happy to get over 100 cars in just three divisions. This alone speaks volumes for the competition level and loyalty of the racers at Nashville.” 6

And race fans have responded. Attendance has been on the rise for the past four years, and some experts predict that the 2008 season will end up as one of the best in recent history.

Quoting stockcarracing.com again:

“Fan support at Nashville has been on the upswing over the past four years. The best strategy of getting families in the seats is to first tell them where you are located and what you do. The second component is to make the venue family friendly. Then make

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_City_Motorplex

5 Ibid.

6 http://www.stockcarracing.com/featurestories/scrp_0809_historic_racetrack/nascar.html


it affordable. You've also got to have a great show and get spectators out of the racetrack at a decent hour. Nashville is a master of the four hour show, not letting it drag into the late hours of the night. Being in Nashville, the track faces a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar. But at only $10 for an adult admission ticket, races at Nashville are considered a value.”

If it seems as if we are concentrating on the race track, we are. The race track and the fairgrounds are so inexorably linked, that the history of the track is basically the history of the fairgrounds itself. Were it not for the race track, there would be no fairgrounds today.

As illustrated by the following period postcard, the racetrack and grandstand are sitting on the exact same spot (even having been rebuilt after a 1965 fire) as the original race track. You can even see how the racetrack is cut from the hillside, and the rise up to where the exhibit buildings now sit.

and the rise up to where the exhibit buildings now sit. Figure 4 - Fairgrounds circa

Figure 4 - Fairgrounds circa 1920 (?)

Being in continuous operation for over 100-years, the fairgrounds and the race track, along with its 50-year record of NASCAR recognition, both hold a position of historical importance as a cultural resource not only for the people of Nashville, but for all citizens of Tennessee.

Choices for the future

Recently the Fair Board contracted Markin Consulting to provide an assessment and recommendations for the future of the Tennessee State Fair and the fair grounds themselves.

In that report, Markin listed three primary options for the Tennessee State Fair:

Continue operating the TSF as is


Cease operations of the TSF

Reinvent the TSF as a true State Fair

We feel that to continue everything “as is” would be repeating many mistakes of the past, and would eventually become a financial burden on Davidson County as the fair grounds at this time have declined due to improper maintenance and poor management and oversight.

We agree that the fair and the fairgrounds are in definite need of an overhaul of major proportions.

As to the second option, we do not believe this is viable, nor legally possible. The Charter of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County is the document passed by the State Legislature that gives Nashville/Davidson County the authority to operate as a governmental body, and establishes certain conditions and restrictions to that authority.

The current Metro Charter incorporates Acts 490 and 515 (which govern the State Fair and fairgrounds) by direct reference, and 515 is included word-for-word.

The two most important provisions are section 3 and section 10:

Section 3 provides that the Board of Fair Commissioners “shall have full power to prescribe rules and regulations for its own government and organization, and for the holding of said fairs and expositions, and shall elect officers for the fairs, and shall choose whatever employes(sic) it may deem necessary and fix their compensation; …

This basically establishes the fairgrounds as a separate entity from Davidson County that is not under the control of the Mayor or Metro Council.

The property had been previously leased to the State of Tennessee on a 99-year lease with the State holding the State Fair. However, in 1923, at the time 515 passed, the State determined it was going out of the fair business, and it would be taken over by the Davidson County Fair Board of Commissioners.

Section 10 gives the fair Board the authority to enter into negotiations with the Commissioner of Agriculture for dissolving any outstanding leases with the State of Tennessee, “and to take complete charge and control on behalf of such counties, and they shall use and maintain such property by holding thereon, at least once a year, for not less than six days, a fair or exposition for the benefit of the people of such counties, and they may lease for amusement purposes said property at such times and in such ways as not to interfere with the operation of said fair, the proceeds received from said leases to be used in the maintenance of said fair, at which shall be exhibited, as far as possible, the resource of said county and the State of Tennessee…”

These provisions have the force of law, and basically state that Davidson County has agreed to operate a state fair in Nashville in perpetuity


In any type of legal dispute over legislation or statutes, courts first attempt to determine the intent of the legislative body which passed the legislation or statute.

Here, with just a plain reading, the intent of the Tennessee Legislature is perfectly clear. The fairgrounds property can be used for only one purpose, and cannot be sold or transferred to anyone other than the original owner. The Legislature obviously meant to preclude any sort of future windfall profit to the County from the possible sale or development for other purposes of the fairground property.

Should Davidson County somehow attempt to divest itself of the property, we feel that there would be legal challenge from citizens, who are in fact, the owners of that property.

Barring the legality of transfer, we also do not believe it to be financially responsible. As much upgrading as is needed at the fairgrounds, it is certainly less costly than building a new facility.

The property partially sits on a flood plane, and the remainder is very steep and “hilly” for any sort of commercial development. Further, the property is situated in what could best be called a “transitional” neighborhood, surrounded by a large area of primarily commercial and light industrial development.

None of these factors would contribute to a “top dollar” sale of the property, and certainly not bring enough to purchase comparable property and rebuild all of the buildings and facilities of the current site.

Therefore we feel that even if it were legally possible, it is not financially viable to contemplate moving to a new, possibly lesser facility.

There is also a small but vocal group of people who feel that even if the fairgrounds remain, that the race track should be closed due to the noise generated by the un- muffled racecar engines.

As already stated, the race track was established, and auto races have been held there for over 100 years. There is no one alive in that neighborhood who was a property owner at the time the race track was established or auto racing began there.

Therefore each and every one of those individuals purchased their property and moved into the neighborhood with the full knowledge that the fairgrounds was there and that the race track existed and that the race track was responsible for a certain level of noise at times.

This is not a situation where the fairgrounds and race track moved into an existing neighborhood and caused a nuisance—such as sometimes happens in the establishment of an airport, for instance. This is a case of persons purchasing property and moving into an existing situation with the full knowledge of its existence.


However, we recognize that there is nothing in any current legislation that requires a race track. Only a State Fair is required, and other events are leased out at the pleasure of the Fair Board. We feel that the existence of motor racing is an issued that the opponents and proponents should address to the Fair Board.

We will offer some suggested solutions to the situation because it currently exists.

Markin Consulting, in its assessment of the fairgrounds, surveyed both area and local residents, those in the immediate neighborhood of the fairgrounds. There were approximately 200 people surveyed at the two public meetings, some from as far away as Cookville, Shelbyville, and Murfreesboro, but the majority being close residents to the fairgrounds.

The results of the survey show that approximately eight out of ten respondents indicated that the fairgrounds should remain as it is, but should be expanded with more community facilities as well as an entertainment venue.

One organization has an online survey with over 3,000 signatures, over half of which are local Nashville residents who feel that the racetrack should remain as an integral part of the fairgrounds itself.

The fairgrounds and all of its concessions—the racetrack, flea market, wrestling, gun shows, etc.—currently have a significant economic impact on Davidson County, bringing in approximately $50-$60 million into the local economy. 7 The fairgrounds operations also account for over one million visitors to Nashville each year, and over 29,000 hotel/motel nights. The flea market itself accounts for over 50,000 visitors to Davidson County each month.

Most of these events would be unable to find new venues within Davidson County in which to operate, and thus would move to other cities and counties, taking their visitors and their money with them.

Further, the fairgrounds operation has been totally self-sustaining for its entire 100-year history. Davidson County has never paid a dime the fairgrounds. In fact, the fairgrounds pay a considerable sum to Davidson County each year in the form of “service fees” and had several million dollars “raided” from its reserves for the Metro acquisition of the Titans football team.

However, we feel that with major improvements, the fairgrounds could become an even more significant factor in the local economy. But it will take imagination, hard work, and of course, some “front money” to make it all happen—although as noted later in this document, there are options for obtaining this “front money” and other services that would reduce any outlay by the fairgrounds itself.

7 According to information presentation to the Fair Board of Commissioners during a February, 2009 meeting and compiled by the fairgrounds staff.


Figure 5 - The area surrounding the fairgrounds. In this illustration the fairgrounds are outlined

Figure 5 - The area surrounding the fairgrounds.

In this illustration the fairgrounds are outlined in green, and red indicates property that is already in non-residential use—either commercial or light industrial for the most part. The purple block is mainly government assisted housing, and not likely to be open to any sort of development. The blue lines are active railroad lines.

This demonstrates no only the encroachment of non-residential usage, but also the position of the fairgrounds as a “magnet” for further and/or upgraded commercial development of the area. With its excellent access to interstate highways, the fairgrounds are well positioned to become a prime location for not only “THE” Tennessee State Fair itself, but for an expanded range of entertainment events, trade shows, and public exhibition venues as well as an area of community involvement.

The Dream and the Proposals

Following are some of our various proposals for “reinventing” the Tennessee State

Fairgrounds and its metamorphosis into The Historic Tennessee State Fairgrounds.

They are presented in no particular order, since most of these proposals can be evaluated and implemented on an individual basis. Their interrelation rests solely on their combined effect of making the fairgrounds a gem in the community and a desirable location for fun and recreation.

So please come with us to our dream of a “new” fairground- where the grass is always green, and the sky is always blue.


The New Fairgrounds

The New Fairgrounds Figure 6- Entrance to the fairgrounds viewed from the bus stop on Nolensville

Figure 6- Entrance to the fairgrounds viewed from the bus stop on Nolensville Road.

Our goal for the metamorphosis of the fairgrounds was to change it from something that appears to have been designed by the county maintenance barn into a more classic park-like environment. One that is inviting, and has opportunity for public use and enjoyment.

We started with Walsh Road by re-naming it “Wedgewood Parkway.” Walsh is merely an extension of Wedgewood Drive and it makes it more consistent to continue the name of the larger street. In fact, some maps now show Walsh labeled as “Wedgewood.” Further, Wedgewood Drive was originally constructed to connect the horse stables at Traveler’s Rest Plantation with the racetrack, and was named after a champion racehorse.

The name would also reinforce the idea of a park-like area.

We have then made it a true parkway by dividing the lanes and separating them with a median while maintaining its current wide sweeping curves. Smith Street now becomes the “crossover” of the median, and provides access to the mid-section of the fairgrounds.


Figure 7- Wedgewood Parkway The median is landscaped and, borrowing from the downtown classical re-design,

Figure 7- Wedgewood Parkway

The median is landscaped and, borrowing from the downtown classical re-design, is lined with traditional globe lights illuminating both lanes of traffic.

The eastern/south sides of Wedgewood Parkway also feature a tree-lined median separating it from a walkway, which, using another suggestion from the downtown redevelopment, is paved with cobbles. The addition of benches gives it a welcoming look as well as providing rest stops when walking the dog.

In keeping with the classic theme, the entrance now features an archway or similar construction utilizing fieldstone. Perimeter fences which face on public streets are replaced by a spike fence on fieldstone bases. Fieldstone is also used to front other features such as retaining walls and risers.

Areas of greenway are incorporated into the new design and are discussed in later sections.

Another major feature of the redesign is replacing the intersection of Wedgewood and Raines/Wilson with a traffic circle. This circle features a fountain in our concept, but could be merely decorative plantings. However, we feel that the fountain adds considerable esthetic appeal and is a feature that could perhaps be underwritten by sponsorship.


Figure 8- Traffic circle at Wilson and Wedgewood We feel that a redesign of this

Figure 8- Traffic circle at Wilson and Wedgewood

We feel that a redesign of this magnitude will make the fairgrounds much more appealing, not only to the public, but to potential contractors for entertainment, trade, and public events.

The Parking Areas and Greenway

You can already see some major changes in the illustrations above, but let’s present one that’s not quite so glamorous or dramatic—the parking lots.

not quite so glamorous or dramatic—the parking lots. Figure 9 - Overhead view of the current

Figure 9 - Overhead view of the current fairgrounds

As you can see in the overhead view, the parking lot situation is a bit of a muddle at best—roads all over, some even running in circles, and bit of asphalt here and bits of grass there. All of this creates not only some confusion, but wasted space that is unable to be allocated to any particular use.

We feel that the consolidation of many of these areas can yield more efficient parking areas, more logical layout for the midway area, and still leave considerable room for greenway areas, that will lead to more community involvement in the fairgrounds in general.

In our “new” fairgrounds, areas to the left (west) of


the race track are left basically intact.

Areas above, to the right, and below the track (north, east, south) undergo major change.

All of the odd bits of asphalt and grass have been consolidated, and un-necessary roads have been eliminated.

Paved areas have been “squared off” whenever possible, giving more efficient use as both parking and midway areas.

A greenway area has been established to the east and to the south of the track, involving Brown’s Creek, and yielding an area suitable for public use and enjoyment.

The greenway areas have been laid out with the idea in mind that many parts of them could be utilized as overflow parking or midway areas. Since the fair is an annual event, it is felt that any damage to the turf would be minimal, and would easily recover from use in a short period of time. “Snow fences” or some other type of temporary barrier could be used to protect the actual greenway path if needed, although the planting of trees and shrubbery would provide a natural protection.

By establishing roads close to the track bank on the east and south sides, and connecting them to the tunnel access road, a full perimeter transit of the fairgrounds is possible, and keeping the roads to opposite sides of the greenway preserves the walkway experience.

sides of the greenway preserves the walkway experience. Figure 10 - New parking lot layout All

Figure 10 - New parking lot layout

All greenway areas are bordered by roads in the event they need to be utilized as “overflow” space.

Direct access to the cattle barns has been preserved on the south side of the fairgrounds.

The Greenway

This is perhaps one of our more optimistic proposals. Closely tied in to the restructuring of the parking lots is the establishment of a greenway area, including a walking path along Brown’s Creek.

This would not only “green” up the fairgrounds, but would provide a public area for recreation and relaxation.


We envision a walking path beginning at the entrance gate and extending to the south part of the fairgrounds, generally following Brown’s creek. The path would be a simple affair of treated timber bordering a woodchip walkway.

affair of treated timber bordering a woodchip walkway. Figure 11- start of the greenway footpath There

Figure 11- start of the greenway footpath

There would be at least three picnic tables and shelters added along the pathway. The picnic areas are all close to service roadways not only for maintenance, but for handicapped access as well.

only for maintenance, but for handicapped access as well. Figure 12- Picnic shelter and footbridge crossing

Figure 12- Picnic shelter and footbridge crossing Brown's Creek


Brown’s Creek would be cleaned of underbrush and the entire greenway area planted with grass to form large meadows. Additional trees would also be planted along the creek and the walkway.

The creek would also be stocked with fish. We understand the creek is actually fishable now, but stocking it would provide sufficient fish for it to become a public activity—not for serious sport fishing, but more as a fun activity for children. Fishing would be catch- and-release.

activity for children. Fishing would be catch- and-release. Figure 13 - Greenway path. In this figure,

Figure 13 - Greenway path.

In this figure, you can see the proposed route (yellow line) of the walkway along Brown’s Creek, as well as the meadow areas. These are the same areas referred to earlier that could be used as “overflow” from the paved lots, and notice that they are laid out to be utilized as such with the walkway far to one side.

There are two footbridge crossings of the creek, not only to add a bit of “interest” along the walk, but also due to the banking of the race track and its proximity to the creek.

The small gray squares are picnic shelter areas.

Low maintenance shrubbery such as rhododendron should be planted along the fairground boundary not only for beautification, but to shield the walkway from the view of Craighead Street.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this particular proposal is that we feel this project could be done at little or no cost to the fairgrounds and create a tremendous amount of community effort and public involvement in the facility.

It may not be common knowledge, but within the Boy Scouts, a prospective Eagle Scout is required to plan and organize a public service project. And this greenway is exactly the type of project that the candidates seek to perform, and is squarely within the scope of projects that leaders expect of them.

Obviously this type of project is too large for one person to accomplish alone, and so we also have an opportunity for 4-H and FFA to participate as well.

The preparation of Brown’s Creek could be supervised by the Wildlife Commission, and perhaps even volunteer involvement of organizations such as Trout Unlimited, who have a program of “adopting” sections of streams and building fish habitats and other features to encourage good fishing. While the water in Brown’s Creek may not be cold enough for trout, a local chapter may still adopt it as a project. If not, there are other sport fishing organizations who may be interested.


The Wildlife Commission and the Department of Agriculture could also participate in tree planting (furnishing trees to be planted by the youth volunteers) as well as planting of the meadow areas.

The walkway itself and the bridges and picnic shelters are very simple rustic construction and do not require expensive materials or highly skilled labor to construct. If the organization heading the project was unable to furnish the materials, it’s very likely that a local sponsor could be secured who would participate in this manner. It would be an excellent public relations opportunity for a company to do so. Funding could also be possible through State Greenway Development funds.

Cables, Wires and Phone Poles

You will not see and power lines or phone poles in our proposal. All wiring has been moved underground in our world. With this move, phone poles have been rendered obsolete. This not only is for cosmetic purposes, but will provide lower maintenance costs in the future, as well as removing obstacles to the utilization of open spaces.

All lighting has been replaced by dedicated light poles at designated intervals around the fairgrounds, and are “shielded” light fixtures preventing the light from “stealing the night” as well as minimizes light bleeding over into the surrounding area.

The Reality vs. The Dream

Using photos from the makethefairgroundsgreen.com website, we can show a contrast between the current reality and our future dream. We have tried to keep the viewpoints as similar as possible. You will also see the dramatic effects of the above proposal concerning poles and wires.


Figure 14- The current entrance from Nolensville Road Figure 15- The new fairgrounds entrance from

Figure 14- The current entrance from Nolensville Road

Figure 14- The current entrance from Nolensville Road Figure 15- The new fairgrounds entrance from Nolensville

Figure 15- The new fairgrounds entrance from Nolensville Road


Figure 16- The view from just inside the front gate Figure 17- View from just

Figure 16- The view from just inside the front gate

Figure 16- The view from just inside the front gate Figure 17- View from just inside

Figure 17- View from just inside the front gate


Figure 18- The view from the top of Wingrove Street Figure 19- View from the

Figure 18- The view from the top of Wingrove Street

Figure 18- The view from the top of Wingrove Street Figure 19- View from the top

Figure 19- View from the top of Wingrove Street


Figure 20- View from hilltop looking toward entrance Figure 21- New view from hilltop looking

Figure 20- View from hilltop looking toward entrance

Figure 20- View from hilltop looking toward entrance Figure 21- New view from hilltop looking toward

Figure 21- New view from hilltop looking toward entrance


Sound Suppression

Should auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds, some effort should be put forth to reduce sound levels.

Trees are among the best of sound suppression devices, and the current fairgrounds are almost devoid of trees, making it them a huge reflector of echoes and reverberation.

Our proposal dealing with the “greening” of the fairgrounds calls for numerous trees to be planted in all areas of the fairgrounds.

But in addition, there are some technological solutions that may reduce sound levels as well.

We suggest lining the entire circumference of the track with sound suppression panels.

circumference of the track with sound suppression panels. Figure 22- Race track lined with sound suppressors

Figure 22- Race track lined with sound suppressors

These suppressor panels are the same type of panels used at airports and railway stations to dampen sound and are generally quite effective in reducing the decibel level.

In addition to the track itself, we also suggest that the roof of the grandstand could be lined with additional suppressor panels, and that the wooden fences at the north end of the track be replaced with suppressor panels as well.


Figure 23- Additional sound suppressors While there is no magic solution to this that will

Figure 23- Additional sound suppressors

While there is no magic solution to this that will provide total silence, we feel that this is the best of available options for reduction of sound not only from race activities, but also from use of the grandstand as an entertainment venue. 8

Safety and Security

In Markin Consulting’s assessment, at least one stakeholder in the fairgrounds expressed concern about crime and safety at the fairgrounds.

Also, in opening up and encouraging community use and involvement such as the greenway path, additional security would be desirable.

We offer a proposal for a low-cost, high yield solution to this: negotiate with Metro Police to man a sub-station on the fairgrounds property.

We do not envision a full service police station, but rather a small office that could dispatch and administer police activity in the local area and establish a visible presence. It could be something as simple as one of the temporary offices used by banks and construction firms.

8 For more information see http://hlhwalls.com/index.php/Products/STC-32-Heavy-Wall-Noise- Barrier.html


The location would need to be along the main thoroughfare to meet the primary purpose of “showing the flag” that a police presence is nearby.

of “showing the flag” that a police presence is nearby. Figure 24- Proposed Metro Police substation

Figure 24- Proposed Metro Police substation

There is a small “odd” lot that we feel would be most suitable where Smith Street crosses (or actually dead ends). It’s in a high visibility area not only from the street, but from most areas of the fairgrounds.

In our proposal of widening Wedgewood (Walsh) and installing a median strip, Smith Street becomes a “crossover” area as well as access to the mid-area of the fairgrounds. Therefore this location would offer access in either direction for police vehicles as well as direct access to the fairgrounds.

Also, it’s location at the edge of a small end piece of parking area would not incur much loss of parking space.

Fairgrounds Bus Service

To make the fairgrounds and all of its activities more accessible to the public, we recommend that a bus stop be installed near the intersection of Wilson Drive.

We feel that this would improve attendance, especially with the current gas situation (which looks to be permanent). It would allow shuttle busses to be run during large events, especially “fair week”, and could easily be integrated into the regular schedule of the Nolensville Road bus route.


Figure 25- Bus stop at Wilson and Wedgewood (in parking lot) This would also open

Figure 25- Bus stop at Wilson and Wedgewood (in parking lot)

This would also open up parking areas, and ease traffic congestion during peak activities.

What we suggest is very simple. Just put a bus stop in the parking lot near Wilson Drive. Busses would access the bus stop from the Smith Street entrance to the main parking area.

This bus stop could be an “as needed” detour from the Nolensville Road route, and should run a full schedule during fair week, and hourly runs on Saturdays and Sundays to service the flea market and other events. This would provide direct access to the fairgrounds from the downtown bus terminal, and thus to the entire city of Nashville.

The only things required to implement this proposal is the construction of a bus stop and the cooperation of the Metro Transit Authority.

Alternative Power Sources

This has not only become a “buzz word” during the past few months, but it is also a viable way for the fairgrounds to offset a large portion of operational costs, and perhaps even make a profit from the effort.

The fairgrounds has literally acres of rooftops, all unobstructed by trees or other buildings, and all could easily be fitted with solar collector cells.


This is also an area where the cost of implementation could be offset by assistance from government agencies.

could be offset by assistance from government agencies. Figure 26- Solar collector panels on rooftops The

Figure 26- Solar collector panels on rooftops

The U.S. Department of Energy through its Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program 9 provides grants to local communities for the development of alternative power sources. Some of this funding is also administered by the State Energy Program.

A program to acquire solar energy capabilities would also fit into the program

announced on May 8, 2008 by Governor Bredesen for the state’s energy task force. One of the key goals of that group is to lead the way by installing alternative power in

as many government owned facilities as possible, as soon as possible. The fairgrounds could easily become a showcase for the governor’s program.

In addition to solar power, wind power should also be investigated. The fairgrounds sit

in an excellent location for wind power generators. However, we understand there may

be some noise involved with this equipment, and that aspect should be determined

before proceeding.

RV Parking Area

We feel that major improvement of this area could turn it into a profit point for the fairgrounds.

9 http://www.eere.energy.gov/


Viewing the earlier photo, The View from Wingrove Street, this area is marked by broken pavement, steel guardrails, and bare dirt. Certainly not a place someone would choose as a destination unless they’re working the flea market, midway, or some other event held at the fairgrounds.

But with some beautification, we feel that this could actually be turned into a “destination” spot where people merely visiting Nashville could, and would park.

Plant some trees, put up a picnic shelter or two, put in actual stone retaining walls on the terraces (instead of dirt banks)—in other words, just fix the place up.

We understand that the pricing for the use of parking there is already an excellent bargain, but the surroundings are too grim to attract visitors except out of necessity.

A Sign of the Times

One small detail that should not be overlooked, and can be implemented immediately is new signage-- especially of the electronic sort. And this is a proposal that can be immediately put into place.

We feel the fairgrounds should have the largest animated digital sign possible, fronting on Nolensville Road and visible from Craighead Street on which to announce events.

visible from Craighead Street on which to announce events. Figure 27- Digital Signage If you’re not

Figure 27- Digital Signage

If you’re not sure of the type of sign we refer to, take a stroll up Nolensville Road and check out all the used car lots!


These signs are digitally programmable and now only show text, but animations of most anything you can imagine—from fireworks to butterflies. These signs catch the eye as well as give information. The animations cause people to look, and to look longer.

A Little Mental Therapy

General Thoughts

Thus far all we have presented are proposals for the physical body of the fairgrounds. But the “mental” part must be give a bit of therapy as well. Some of our dream is a “chicken and the egg” conundrum—we must have some new physical facilities to support some of our new ideas. But then we need some of the new ideas to support the physical changes.

Some things like the revamping of the RV park, the police station, and the bus stop can be introduced almost immediately with relatively little outlay of funds. But burying the wiring, re-doing the lighting and the parking lots, the greenway, and a newly designed entrance and fencing will take some hard cash in addition to inspiration.

And we feel that in the past, this inspiration has been lacking, as well as a failure of the past directors to move the fairgrounds forward.

The Markin Assessment has some suggestions that we would certainly concur with— statewide participation and promotion, major concerts and spectator events, showcasing of state products, just to name a few from their list.

We would also agree that these activities need to be developed in conjunction with the “stakeholders” in the fair activities—the FFA, FHA, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Commission, Tennessee Wildlife, etc.

Let the thinking and imagination run wild. Just as we have presented dreams of a physical rebirth, devote some dream time to a “mental” rebirth as well.

For example, invite the new Volkswagon plant to have an exhibit showing the public how VW’s are made. Have the folks from Gibson demonstrate how they make guitars.

Once you have some educational, industrial, and agricultural exhibitors, create a “school day” at the fair. Let the schools bus their students in, admit them for free and give them guided visits to the educational parts of the fair—then let them loose for the afternoon to spend their money on rides and concessions before being bussed back home.


After The Fair Is Over

While it’s obvious that some effort is made in “off season” bookings, how much effort is really put into promoting the fairgrounds as a venue for industrial and trade shows? With bus shuttles, downtown accommodations and entertainment is only a 10 minute ride—and with the moderate rental fees of the fairground facilities, this could be offered as a real bargain to organizations looking for a “deal” on convention or trade show space.

Opening a Can of Worms

It’s been admitted by all parties that the grandstand area in particular needs some capital improvement.

However, if the operator is to make any capital improvements, or outlay much in the way of long-term promotions, it seems that a long-term contract is called for. We can’t imagine anyone in business who would consent to large promotional outlays or capital improvements on a contract of only a year—or even five years.

Looking back historically, the track was initially paved when the operator was granted a 10-year contract with a 20-year renewal. This made if financially viable for him to make the improvements.

And so it is today. To obtain any sort of long-term commitment or substantial capital outlay, the operator should be give a long term contract. A contract of at least 20 years, if not longer.

Given a long-term contract, it could be contractually required for the operator to work with the fair board in utilizing the grandstand/race track as an entertainment venue when not in use for racing purposes.

Would You Put the Dog Out?

We also feel compelled to comment on the recent decision to ban all animal sales at the fairground.

We feel that this has created a lot of negative publicity, and in the long run can only be a bad situation. Of course this has a small negative financial impact as well. There are some vendors who will not participate in the flea market due to this restriction, and it’s never good to run your customers off.

However, we also realize the humane aspect of this decision.

But let us offer another possibility that may not be quite so negative.

Virtually all animals sold in this country are “home” raised—even thoroughbreds. Certainly these are not all “puppy farms.” There are also other animals sold at the


fairgrounds, such as the sugar gliders, that are home raised, although these particular animals require a license since they are an exotic species.

So it seems that this decision has tossed out the good along with the bad.

May we suggest that the Humane Society provide volunteer inspectors at the flea markets who would have the authority to ban individual dealers who are exhibiting sick or obviously mistreated animals?

This would accomplish the goal of discouraging the “puppy farmers” while still allowing the competent and honest dealers, in all species, to operate their business.

Use of the Grandstand As An Entertainment Venue

We have frankly been baffled as to “why” this is not already implemented. Most State Fairs seem to make as much from concerts and entertainment events as anything else.

Looking at fairs in Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa and elsewhere, the concerts during their fairs consist of first-line entertainment stars and have an average ticket cost of over $50, above the cost of entry into the fair.

Why we in the “Music City” can’t seem to come up with such events for our own fair is something that needs some attention as well.

Events should be scheduled not only during the Fair, but throughout the year to maximize this income opportunity.

A Final Challenge

We have presented a detailed set of proposals here that we feel if implemented, could revitalize both the physical fairgrounds and redirect the thinking of its operations.

However it’s all for naught if everyone who reads this document tosses it and forgets about it.

So we would like to issue a challenge to the fair board.

This upcoming year is the 100 th anniversary of the “official” establishment of these fairgrounds. 10

Therefore we challenge the fair board to undertake a “Project Centennial.” The purpose of which is to examine, plan, and implement the proposals that would carry us into the next 100 years.

“Project Centennial” would establish working relationships with the stakeholders (Department of Agriculture, School Systems, Convention Bureau, Natural Resources

10 Written in 2008 as part of the original proposal.


Commission, Department of Industry and Trade, Race Officials—anyone who would contribute to the effort) and solicit ideas and plans.

It would also encourage advanced thinking and new and unusual ideas, the purpose of which is to make the Tennessee State Fair THE State Fair of Tennessee with wide- spread appeal and wide-spread attendance.

It would also develop new plans for the non-fair usage of the facility for entertainment, industry, and trade venues.

It would explore and develop plans for the public usage aspect of the fairgrounds property, such as the greenway, walking paths, picnic areas, recreational fishing, etc.

It would explore additional sources of income for implementing plans such as the greenway project, solar energy, etc.

It would work with the stakeholders any other interested members of the public to implement the plans as soon as they can be accomplished.

We feel that many of the problems being faced today are the result of the lack of forward thinking in the past. We urge that you do not let the past repeat itself.

Respectfully Submitted

Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group


Since we originally published this document over a year ago, we’ve made a few changes based on information that came in later, and a couple of new ideas.

Changes were made to the historical section to add a couple of items we thought important—the flight of Charles K. Hamilton and the retirement of John K. Gentry.

We also made some major additions to the legal basis and the legislation that governs the fairgrounds. We also deleted some information that, while technically correct, was later changed by newer legislation which is now included.

Also we had a few additional ideas, one of which is the utilization of the property. Much has been said about limits on new buildings due to the flood plain, and the hills on the property.

However, we feel that a little creativity can help solve those problems too, and one idea is to build up, instead of out. Below is an illustration of how a building, such as a horse arena, could be build into a hillside, as well as a new parking deck.


The arena parking lot would have an elevator at the rear, giving handicap access not

have an elevator at the rear, giving handicap access not only to the arena itself, but

only to the arena itself, but the entire upper level of the fairgrounds.

Figure 28 - New building and parking deck

Planters and additional landscaping has been omitted for visibility in this picture.

This idea would preserve the existing parking area, as well as adding new space with the deck itself—a substantial increase in parking, while adding a new building at the same time!

February 8, 2010


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