MAY FAMILY MAKES TSU AN OFFER IT CAN’T REFUSE

12 04 2009

You have to give the May family points for persistence.  In the face of a dead real estate market and a tanking economy, they are pursuing their goal of creating a new downtown for Nashville out in the green, rolling country of Bell’s Bend–a downtown with remarkably limited access and a handpicked population.  It reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson‘s sarcastic epigram, “If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and get a new people?”  In this case, it’s more a question of big business not trusting the people–but hey, there’s not a lot of difference any more, is there?

The latest chapter in this drama is downright Machiavellian.  The Mays have donated 250 of their roughly 1500 acres to Tennessee State University, augmented by a $400,000 endowment for a “chair of sustainable agriculture.”  To further sweeten the pot, they have promised to help build an agricultural  “research park” in Maytown Center  that will “help develop partnerships with businesses in the area,” according to the Nashville Post.

TSU president Melvin Johnson called the bribe, excuse me, gift from the May family “the most transformative opportunity” in the traditionally black, traditionally underfunded  school’s history.  It is not reported whether he shouted “Hosannah,”  “shook his wooly mane in joy,” or did a “buck dance,” but my possibly paranoid notion about the feudal nature of the Mays’ vision is reinforced by the fact that they are arranging to have the darkies out toiling in the fields.

Oh, the irony!  A “chair of sustainable agriculture” and a “sustainable agriculture research park” established at a site that will require massive, unsustainable infrastructure development, not unlike those suburban sprawls with names like “Deer Park Way” and “Rambling Rill Drive” that have destroyed the deer park and the rambling rill that gave them their names.

And oh, the cleverness of splitting the blacks and the predominantly white environmental community–how dare we stand in the way of this wonderful opportunity for TSU!!?

Well, there is an upside to TSU getting that bottomland. even if  the “research park” that would come with Maytown Center is nevr built.  The school does have a solid agricultural program already, and could be a terrific partner in the agricultural renaissance that needs to happen not just on Bell’s Bend, but all around Nashville.  As I’ve detailed in other stories, it is going to take thousands of small farmers to feed Nashville locally, and at this point in time there are only dozens.  We need the moral equivalent of war, folks, if we’re going to keep eating.

And what’s really going on behind the scenes?  The Mays have lost nothing but a tax liability by giving TSU 250 acres of undevelopable floodplain; the exact nature of the endowment is not public knowledge, but they may be getting a huge tax write off from stocks that are about to go south and leave TSU high and dry.

As to the future of Maytown Center, I see three possibilities.  One is that sensible heads will again prevail and it will not be built.  Another is that it will be built, at least partially, and rapidly become a ghost town as it becomes obvious that the Mays’ business plan was an hugely expensive, unnecessary folly.  And the third possibility is my “paranoid” vision of it as  Fortress Maytown, a restricted access community where the wealthy will be able to seal themselves off from the chaos that this country could so easily descend into, while the darkies grow organic food for them.  I’m voting for the first option.  Once more unto the breach, good friends.

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland








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