Music entrepreneur has big ideas for fairgrounds

December 13, 2012

Summary: An article from The Tennessean reports on Isaac Tigrett's ideas for the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Convergence Design is part of a team hired by the City of Nashville to study potential redevelopment ideas for the fairgrounds site. Tigrett's proposal has not been evaluated by the master planning team.

A Tennessee-bred co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues chains has proposed a massive, music-oriented redevelopment of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, though it could be years before his idea takes flight — if it ever does.

Isaac Tigrett said the plan is “a labor of love” that would feature a concert venue with 4,000 to 5,000 seats and 14 concert stages overall.

“It has great potential for the city,” Tigrett, who is visiting Nashville from his home in Bangalore, India, said Tuesday. “Nashville just stepped out on the world stage with the announcement of the Grammy nominations. It’s no longer a second-class city. It’s smoking!”

In an interview shown on the TalkApolis.com website, Tigrett displayed colorful renderings by Japanese architects of futuristic-looking buildings, including what appeared to be at least one geodesic dome. He said Nashville “has lost millions and millions and millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars, over the last 20 years as tourists would come here looking for music, which was the offering of Music City, and there was no place to really see the music.”

“You don’t have enough venues,” he told The Tennessean. “I know all of the touring agents and so forth, and they bypass Nashville when it gets past 1,500 seats.”

The Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau said the city has 144 live music venues, from pubs and jazz bars to Bridgestone Arena, which has 17,000 seats. And Nashville ranked second behind only New Orleans in Travel + Leisure magazine’s 2012 voters’ poll on the best music scenes. But some people have lamented the lack of mid-sized concert venues since Starwood Amphitheatre closed in 2007.

Tigrett’s proposal, dubbed "Project Nashville Skyline," also would offer “a rehabilitated expo center, multiple restaurants that transform into dining and dancing halls at night, 14 total concert stages, a New Media World Broadcasting Center streaming live music 24/7, the world’s longest bar, an RV park and a classic auto museum," according to a news release by TalkApolis.com, which was promoting the interview.

The release did not mention auto racing, the most controversial activity at the fairgrounds — and one given new protections by a public vote more than a year ago.

“It has some interesting points in it, but it doesn’t honor the wishes of the voters,” Councilman Duane Dominy said.

But Tigrett, who was born and raised in Jackson, Tenn., said he’s open to including racing.

“What a political hotcake this thing is!” he said. “It’s such a nostalgic place for so many people.”

A two-thirds vote required

A Metro Charter amendment that voters approved by an overwhelming margin in 2011 requires anyone proposing redevelopment of the city-owned fairgrounds to win approval from two-thirds of council members. Mayor Karl Dean tried to redevelop the property about two years ago, but the council rejected the idea as thousands of people poured into the courthouse.

Metro also is working on a master plan for the 117-acre site south of downtown. An upcoming second phase of the process will explore potential mixed-use development. For now, consultants have drafted a "fair and event analysis" examining ways to enhance racing, the flea market, the annual state fair and other existing events.

The analysis concluded that a worthwhile upgrade would cost at least $150 million, but Tigrett said that figure was much too high.

Fairgrounds executive director Buck Dozier said he saw Tigrett’s plans at least two weeks ago, but he can’t do anything with them for now.

“It’s great to have ideas,” Dozier said. “But somebody’s going to have to tell me, ‘You can entertain them.’ ”

Dominy has proposed that Metro’s fair board gauge interest from the private sector. He has said he envisions a developer leasing the fairgrounds long-term, improving the facilities, maintaining existing activities and sharing revenues with Metro.

Dominy said Tuesday that he was pleased to hear Tigrett proposing to use private money and complimenting the sturdiness of the fairgrounds’ buildings. Tigrett said he wouldn’t need to do much construction.

Tigrett, 64, is no longer involved with Hard Rock Cafe or House of Blues. He stepped down as House of Blues’ chief executive in 1997 “amid complaints by the board about high spending and poor financial performance,” The Los Angeles Times reported. But Tigrett said he lost a “boardroom squabble” over whether to take the company public.

Contact Michael Cass at 615-259-8838 or mcass@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter @tnmetro.

Go to http://www.tennessean.com/article/20121211/NEWS0202/312110052/Music-entrepreneur-has-big-ideas-fairgrounds

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