Saving Fort Negley Means Investing in its Future
The Tennessean – T Bone Burnett, July 17, 2017
We all have a common foe — forgetfulness. Fort Negley has been forgotten. It has suffered decades of neglect.
Bert Mathews, Tom Middleton and I — working together as The Cloud Hill Partnership — responded to the city’s request to rehabilitate Greer Stadium, which sits beneath Fort Negley on Saint Cloud Hill, with a flexible, general plan that will change and be revised as we further engage with the community.
The park that we will build with the city as a partner will bring great social, cultural and economic benefit to the city while we do everything we can to save the fort. The Greer property provides a unique opportunity to do that. The benefits of our plan include Fort Negley, but also much more.
We are reclaiming open space while offering the city a public infrastructure to support music and the arts — also threatened public goods — into the 21st century at no cost to the city.
Our primary goal in answering the city’s request was to provide a park where the entire city would feel welcome and safe 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
At the same time, the Cloud Hill partners are committed to doing everything possible to preserve and honor and support Fort Negley.
This is a challenging site. In all of our research about and around the fort, we have not found a single successful park in the United States that has a light industrial warehouse district as an edge. And Fort Negley is surrounded immediately to the west by Interstate 65, immediately to the north by Interstate 40, immediately to the east by railroad tracks, and immediately to the south by a light industrial warehouse district along Chestnut Street.
Fort Negley has been cut off from the city. Hidden in plain sight.
Until Fort Negley is reconnected to the city across I-65 and under I-40, and until Chestnut Street is activated on both sides of the street, Fort Negley will be isolated and will remain neglected.
The Tennessee limestone that makes up the walls of the fort is deteriorating. Those who have been attempting to maintain the fort for years say it would take up to $40 million to rehabilitate the fort.
A few people have called out to save Fort Negley while taking no responsibility for doing so, or even acknowledging the extreme difficulties involved in the task.
So we set about creating a self-sustaining community that will generate enough revenue to contribute to the maintenance and, through concerts and programs, the rehabilitation of the fort.
We ask to work with you, residents of Nashville, to tell the extraordinary story of this place and this city.
I believe in the power of place to tell a story.
I can think of no higher calling for this place that once knew war and death than to be surrounded by music and art and science as future generations of artists and thinkers come to beat swords into plowshares as they play the “mystic chords of memory” to tell the deep history of this important place and our beautiful city.
Yes, we all have a common foe; but we who care about Fort Negley also have a common goal — the safeguarding of this important national place.
An overview of the proposed redevelopment. (Photo: Cloud Hill Partnership)
To correct some misinformation that has shown up in a couple of places, the site is not being sold. There will be no condominiums. The fort will not be destroyed. Graves will not be desecrated.
The site is being leased. The terms have not been negotiated. The Sounds had a 99-year lease, and they left after 35 years. The city still owns the land, and it will share the revenue generated by Cloud Hill through a public/private partnership.
In the current plan, only two of the combined 60 acres of Greer and Fort Negley are devoted to housing and creative office space. The other 58 acres are park and public space. None is for sale.
We want to honor, protect and safeguard the fort. We want to tell its story, so that the fort and the reasons for it will not be forgotten.
And we will work closely with the African-American community to ensure that they and their ancestors are respected and properly memorialized. We have brought in archaeologists. We are meeting with historians. We will work closely with the African-American community in every aspect of making this a place that will honor their profound history on Saint Cloud Hill.
Let’s work together to create a place that belongs to and is loved and cared about by the whole city.
We at Cloud Hill intend to work to save Fort Negley as we create a beautiful and safe place for every neighborhood in Nashville.
T Bone Burnett, one of the driving forces behind the Cloud Hill Partnership, is a highly acclaimed, award-winning songwriter, performer and producer who is also a conscience-driven cultural and urban planning advocate.