The pain of this heartbreak was compounded by its timing. The announcement that the State of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management entity suddenly disapproved the donated property came last week just as local residents were preparing for a Veterans Day Weekend full of patriotic commemorations and related activities.
To liken this setback to letting the air out of a red, white and blue balloon does little to adequately describe the ache felt throughout our hometown — and especially by local government and Veterans Affairs leaders who have worked tirelessly for 10 years to bring this dream to fruition.
To hear most tell it, our community was within 12 to 18 months of starting construction on the 108-bed facility. Its location was to have been a 30-acre tract on Westland Drive in South Cleveland that was donated. Yes, the property was donated at no cost to local government.
It has been on this premise that veterans leaders and organizations have worked closely with local government to secure adequate funding while moving forward with environmental testing of the site and design of the structure.
Yet, Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management representatives have apparently found fault — apparently, four of them — with the site, even though past visits by veterans and government officials have never given cause for alarm.
The state agency has reportedly found the property to be “unacceptable” based on these concerns:
1. The land’s vertical grade is not conducive to building a one-story facility like other state veterans homes.
2. Costs associated with the veterans home, which include accompanying road improvements, would be too high.
3. Visibility of the facility from the road would be too limited.
4. STREAM agency officials also believe the “highest and best use” of the property would be as a residential area, and apparently not a veterans home.
Reactions by a frustrated group of local government leaders — both city of Cleveland and Bradley County, as well as the Veterans Affairs Office — are as understandable as they are justified.
From Bradley County Commissioner Mark Hall who co-chairs the local Veterans Council, “Disappointment and shock are probably an understatement.”
From Bradley County Veterans Affairs Director Larry McDaris, “This came as a complete surprise. We had no indication that a disapproval was in the works.”
From Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, “... very frustrated.”
From Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, “The disappointment is that a local businessman donated that property. It’s a disappointment to them as well.”
It would be easy for us to condemn what appears to be a last-minute, ill-timed ruling by a state agency that apparently has such powers. We will not.
It would be convenient for us to point fingers, cry foul and print unprintable expletives. We will not.
It would be popular among local residents for us to declare that Cleveland and Bradley County deserve far better than this from a state agency or whoever it is responsible for this decision. We will not.
It would be gratifying to sling insults, throw out a few slurs and question the professionalism of those responsible for waiting so long in the planning process to suddenly say “... unacceptable.” We will not.
Instead, we will do this.
We will encourage those who have worked so hard ... for 10 long years ... to keep the faith. Leaders like Larry McDaris, Gary Davis and Tom Rowland, among so very many others, are urged to keep their focus and to step forward ... always forward, and never back.
All is not lost.
Representatives from the Tennessee Veterans Home Board will meet tonight with members of the local Veterans Council to further discuss these new developments. The strategic meeting convenes at 6 p.m. at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
We encourage full participation, plenty of questions and demands for answers. And above all else, we urge immediate debate on all available options.
If a search for a new site in Bradley County is to be launched, as apparently suggested by Tennessee Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder, then we urge tonight’s forum to address dates, deadlines and land possibilities.
Our leaders have come so far over the past decade. To surrender to yet another stumbling block, although understandable, would be an unjust act.
Too many have worked too hard for too long for this moment.
Let cool heads prevail. Let solution come through earnest debate.