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Cherry trees to be removed to make way for NFL Draft stage

NASHVILLE — Mayor David Briley’s Office confirms to News4 that the National Football League needs 21 cherry trees in Riverfront Park to be removed to accommodate a 400-foot stage and other logistical elements for the upcoming NFL Draft.

“Ultimately, Metro had to weigh the decision to save these 21 trees against the economic impact of the event, the size of which makes it necessary to build the stage and other structures in question. Last year the NFL Draft had an economic impact on the city of Dallas of $125 million, with $75 million in direct spending. The Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau expects the impact on Nashville’s economy to be even greater,” said the Mayor’s Office in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said the Mayor’s Office fought hard against the removal of the trees, trees will be replaced after the event with “a healthier and equally beautiful stand of trees that will better stand the test of time.”

The trees will be removed on Monday around 9 a.m., and will be turned into mulch to be used on trails and in other Metro Parks.

**Embargo: Nashville, TN**
21 cherry trees in Riverfront Park to be removed to accommodate a 400-foot stage and other logistical elements for the upcoming NFL Draft.

“The NFL will replace each cherry tree that is taken with trees between 2.5” and 3” in diameter. There will be no cost to Metro taxpayers for these new trees,” said the Mayor’s Office in a statement.

In addition to the 21 cherry trees, Metro plans to replace approximately five trees in the area that are dead, damaged, diseased, or in need of replacement. The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau is also planning to donate an additional 12 trees. In total, 38 new trees will be planted. As far as cost, the city said no taxpayer, city, or parks department dollars will be impacted and the cost of removal and replanting of new trees will be covered by the NFL and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Butch Spyridon with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. said the economic impact of the NFL Draft is important to attract future visitors to the city.

“We met with Metro Parks months ago to relay and discuss the intended removal and replacement of trees for NFL Draft events. Metro Parks staff evaluated and approved. Trees that can be replanted will be. Both the NFL and the NCVC have further committed to donate an additional 100 cherry trees each (200 total) to Metro Parks for the cherry blossom program. Those trees should be planted and blooming by spring of 2020,” said Spyridon.

The Mayor’s Office contends that Metro Government approved the tree removal, with Metro Parks Horticulturist Randall Lance spearheading the project. Council members that we spoke with tell News4 they’ve received dozens of emails, and they just found out about the plan. The Metro Tree Review Panel is reportedly aware of the tree removal, but because the trees were “less than 100 inches in diameter at breast height” they did not have to approve the removal of the trees. The Mayor’s Office said the review panel did approve to replace the trees.

“The NFL Draft will be the largest event in the city’s history and will have significant economic return for Davidson County. The NCVC has been a committed partner with State Parks and Metro Parks on major events, as well as other conservation efforts. We know a beautiful city is vital to attract visitors, and we will continue to work with the city to make sure Nashville remains attractive,” said Spyridon.

Not everyone in Metro Government is on board with the plan, however, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman posted on his Facebook page that he believes “this is a very, very bad idea. These trees belong to the people of Nashville.”

In a string of tweets, Councilmember Freddie O’Connell said the citizens “deserved much greater transparency and involvement in a decision that would remove beautiful cherry trees” just prior to the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival.

A letter sent to News4 was sent to Mayor Briley, Metro Council, and City Officials from Noni Nielson, the Board President for the Nashville Tree Foundation condemning the act of removing the trees, calling it “incredibly short-sighted to cut down trees that took 15+ years to grow for the convenience of a one-time, 48-hour event.” Nielson is calling for the city to delay the removal so that “alternative solutions can be considered.”

“Over the last 33 years, Nashville Tree Foundation has planted over 10,000 trees across Davidson County, many of which have been planted on Metro-owned land, including Riverfront Park. It’s discouraging to see how casually the city has discarded the hard work and financial resources that our organization and our peer organizations have dedicated to improving our city,” said Nielson in the letter.

Residents and local businesses like Acme Feed and Seed are also opposing the tree removal, and a Change.org petition has been set up to halt the process. At the time of this writing, nearly 20,000 people signed the petition.

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