Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean denied that flood relief funds were used for Ascend Amphitheater during his administration, although documents obtained by the News4 I-Team show otherwise.

Dean made the comment during a gubernatorial debate Tuesday night. The topic was brought up by his opponent, Craig Fitzhugh.

Last week the News4 I-Team reported that $7.4 million in HUD disaster relief money didn't go to flood victims; it went to design and engineering work for riverfront development, including Ascend Amphitheater.

Dean said during the debate, "The money that was used was used for flood mitigation, not for building an amphitheater."

Dean's former communications director Janel Lacy reinforced the message Wednesday morning, tweeting “strong rebuttal by Karl Dean in response to a false statement about the use of flood recovery funds”

Strong rebuttal by @KarlFDean in response to a false statement about the use of flood recovery funds. “One the best stories about the city of Nashville is the way this city responded to the flood. ... We got back up on our feet faster than any place imaginable.” #LTGovForum— Janel Lacy (@janellacy) May 16, 2018

News4 asked Lacy to arrange an interview with Dean and was told he is out of town.

Paige Hill, communications director for the Karl Dean for Governor campaign, provided a statement on the News4 reporting."The city of Nashville was awarded $33 million in Community Development Block Grant funds to assist with flood recovery. The month after the flood - long before city officials knew that money would be available - Karl’s administration took the lead on redirecting $2.9 million in regular Community Development Block Grant funds to assist homeowners with their home rehabilitation needs, in addition to nearly $200 million dollars in assistance made available by FEMA and SBA. Because of this decision, Nashville was able to jump start the recovery process for homeowners in a way that has become a model for other cities responding to disasters. Only after extensive public outreach over a three year period did Karl Dean and the Metro Council repurpose roughly $7 million of remaining grant money to mitigate against future floods and help our city’s economy fully recover with the redevelopment of Nashville’s west riverfront. This decision was vetted and approved by the Metro Council, MDHA, and HUD through a transparent, public process. As part of the project, the city built a below-ground seepage cut-off wall along the length of Nashville’s West Riverfront Park (where Ascend Amphitheater sits). This infrastructure fix slows down the movement of underground water and helps decrease the impact of future floods. The city's actual investment in flood mitigation totaled well over the $7 million that was repurposed.There are still recovery funds available to assist homeowners with flood damage that hasn’t been repaired. If anyone still needs assistance, they should contact The Housing Fund for more information."The I-Team asked to interview anyone on his campaign staff and offered to bring thousands of pages of documentation to the interview for their review. Lacy asked the I-Team’s Nancy Amons to email documents and said that they would respond after reviewing the material.

The I-Team reviewed thousands of pages of invoices, budgets, HUD correspondence and internal e-mails that confirm the use of flood disaster funds for the design and engineering of Ascend Amphitheater.

The work was overseen by Commonwealth Development, whose CEO Larry Atema is a friend of Rich Riebeling. Riebeling was Dean’s finance director and is now Metro‘s Chief Operating Officer.

Dean's finance office signed off on the invoices for the Riverfront Development and Ascend Amphitheater project.

One invoice for $110,884, for example, was submitted by Commonwealth on July 31, 2015, with the heading “Riverfront Park and Ascend Amphitheater.”

Another invoice dated March 17, 2014, included the tasks of drawing “building floor plans, base drawings, finish plans and specifications.”

A Feb. 18, 2014, invoice lists meetings with people from various offices, including the Mayor’s office, Metro Parks and the Symphony. The task list includes “continued development of Site Plan and Amphitheater Design.” The bill was for $90,471.00.

An invoice submitted by a Chicago firm on Dec. 31, 2013, showed the company billed $8,897.50 for “Theater Consulting Services.”

The same Chicago company submitted a second bill, also for “Theater Consulting Services” on Feb. 27, 2014, for $20,384.50.

A budget update submitted on Oct. 21, 2016, shows MDHA Disaster Relief Funds of $7.4 million were used for the “West Riverfront Park and Amphitheater” project.

The News4 I team asked Riebeling who approved moving the flood money to the amphitheater project.

"I don't recall it,” Riebeling said.

“I think it was a group decision. I'm not the architect of anything. I work as a collaborative process with a lot of people to make things happen," he said.

Riebeling’s friend Larry Atema earned a management fee of $1.6 million for overseeing the riverfront and amphitheater project. The money was paid from HUD disaster relief funds originally meant for flooded homeowners.

Atema billed at a rate of $195 an hour for services as “owners representative.” Commonwealth has a contract with the city to represent the city’s interests in major construction projects.

HUD told the I-Team it has not audited the project.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.



Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

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