NASHVILLE (WSMV) - Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. and the NFL will continue to take responsibility for cherry trees that will need to be moved for the upcoming NFL Draft.

A news conference was held early Sunday afternoon, during which Butch Spyridon with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. apologized and admitted that they were wrong.

"The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. and the NFL from the very outset committed to pay all costs associated with the event and restoring everything to their rightful and appropriate condition. Wrong as we were, when we looked at those trees, they were varying in size, varying in age, we thought we could create some uniformity in the park and with those trees. We thought we would be helpful in removing the trees and replacing them. I may repeat, we were wrong. We apologize," said Spyridon.

Between the NFL and the CVC, the cost of removing the impacted trees with rootballs intact, moving them and planting them, and any repairs to the park will be covered.

Spyridon blamed months of planning, lots of moving parts, and constant changes of the event for the issue but said the miscommunication is not an excuse. He also accepted blame on behalf of the CVC, and that the Mayor's Office and Metro Government were not at fault for this.

"Clearly, we didn't do a good enough job talking to our stakeholders and communicating all the details for our plan, specifically regarding the trees," said Spyridon.

In new developments, only ten trees out of the originally planned 21 trees at the back of Riverfront Park will be impacted by the relocation. Nashville CVC said they will not be moving any of the trees lining First Avenue North, but rather from the roundabout in the back of the park.

"As I mention again, professionals in the horticultural field will handle the removal of the trees with the best care possible. As Mayor Briley directed, no trees will be removed tomorrow. Monday is a further day of planning. We will need some time to finalize our plans and move forward as we protect the trees and the park," said Spyridon.

Spyridon denounced rumors that the NFL paid the city $10,000 to have the trees removed, calling it false and inaccurate. He also said that cherry trees have a relatively short life span of about 15-20 years on average, and were not generational or older trees.

"These trees are replaced regularly, which is why our thought of replacing the trees seemed logical, although admittedly, wrong."

Spyridon said the Japanese Consulate General and the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival have been made aware of the city's plans and are supportive.

"We hope we can have the community's support and understanding, as well. Rest assured, we're going to get this right as I said, and we're going to make Nashville proud when we host this event," said Spyridon.

The CVC and the NFL will donate an additional 200 plus cherry trees to Metro Parks, including 100 from the CVC and 100 from the NFL. The new trees are set to be planted and blooming by Spring 2020.

The NFL Draft in Nashville is expected to be the single largest event the city or state has hosted. It is expected to attract 100,000 attendees per day over three days. The Nashville CVC said it is expected to generate "enormous economic activity and tax revenue for the city and drive global marketing to bring more business and visitors to Nashville."

"It's a bit disheartening that people would think we don't care, we do. To be able to stand here and tell you all that we got it wrong, we apologize, and we're going to get it right is particularly important to me and this organization. We believe that this city can thrive for it's citizens and be a great international destination. We can do both, we will do both," said Spyridon.

In response to Mayor Briley, Nashville Tree Foundation said that he conceded to relocate the trees rather than destroy them, but that it wasn't a victory for Nashville or its trees. Carolyn Sorenson with the foundation said trees should be transplanted when they are dormant (like during the winter months) and that trees transplanted at this time of the year, including blooming cherry trees, are unlikely to survive.

"As these trees are in tree grates, they will need at least an 8’ root ball to have even a remote chance of survival. That size root ball will require tearing up the pavement, adding considerable expense for what amounts to a fool’s errand," said Sorenson.

It is still unclear what the timeline on the tree removal will be at this time. Stay with News4 for updates to this story.


NASHVILLE (WSMV) - 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.

Briley responds to public outcry over cherry trees, cancels Monday's removal

"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 were planned to be removed on Monday around 9 a.m., and were intended to be turned into mulch to be used on trails and in other Metro Parks. In a late development Saturday afternoon, Mayor David Briley canceled Monday's plans and said he spoke with the NFL and Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. stating the trees would need to be removed in-tact and replanted elsewhere in the city. He did state, however, that the trees will not return to Riverfront Park after the 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 an earlier 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 was 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.

The trees were reportedly dedicated to Betty Moorhead Brown, the Nashville Tree Foundation's first president who passed away in 2011. However, Mayor Briley's office contends that the trees being removed are not part of the Betty Brown Tree Trail and Arboretum.

A letter obtained by News4 sent to Mayor Briley, Metro Council, and City Officials from Noni Nielson, the Board President for the Nashville Tree Foundation condemned 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 petition has been set up to halt the process. At the time of this writing, over 30,000 people signed the petition.

This is a developing story. Stay tuned to News4 for updates.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

WSMV Digital Content Producer

Joey is an award-winning Digital Content Producer who joined WSMV in September 2018.

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