Nashville MLS Stadium Ground Lease Approved; Official Tries to Pump Brakes on Project

Nashville MLS stadium rendering

A vote Tuesday allowed a Nashville MLS stadium ground lease to move forward, but some officials want discussions on the project to slow down. 

Nashville was awarded an MLS expansion team in December 2017, with its bid led by John Ingram calling for a new soccer-specific stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The Nashville Metro Council approved $225 million in bonding for the proposed stadium last fall, but the bonds will not be finalized until several agreements relating to the project are approved.

One of those documents took a step forward on Tuesday, when the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a ground lease with the Nashville Sports Authority. The agreement calls for the authority to lease the land needed for the stadium for 30 years, paying $10 in rent annually. It will not go into effect unless other agreements are also approved, but the annual rent fee was an issue for some who were opposed to the agreement. More from the Tennessean:

The city — which has committed to keep existing uses such as auto racing and flea markets at the fairgrounds — would have the rights to use the stadium for 20 rent-free events, separate from those traditional fairgrounds events. There are several prohibited uses, including anything that qualifies as a nuisance.

The agreement approved Tuesday is subject to the board finalizing a separate ground lease with the team for a 10-acre private development that is still the subject of negotiations between city attorneys and the MLS team. That lease must also be approved by the fair board along with a stadium operation agreement that is still being drafted.

Many longtime fairgrounds advocates continue to criticize the stadium project. Shane Smiley, chairman of the the Nashville Flea Market Vendors Association, told fair board members that the $10 rent fee is “unconscionable.”

“Every other person on this property who has helped sustain this property for decades pays more than $10 for every event that they do,” Smiley said. “This 30-year lease means the sports authority will be paying the fair board $300 for three decades.

Officials are looking to finalize the project in the coming months, and several key votes await the Nashville Metro Council. Councilman Steve Glover has been particularly vocal in his criticisms of the stadium project, and is calling on officials to slow down the discussions. Among his contentions are that the current stadium plan will interfere with The Fairgrounds Nashville’s ability to host an annual state fair, potentially opening the door to legal challenges. More from Fox 17:

“We have a mess on our hands,” Glover said.

Glover says the current plan to build the stadium is bad for the Fairgrounds and bad for Nashville taxpayers.

“What I don’t like about it is the total lack of respect we’re showing for the voters of Nashville and Davidson County and I believe we’re putting ourselves in jeopardy for lawsuits that we’re going to lose, “ Glover said.

Glover says state law calls for a state fair to be held at the Fairgrounds every year. Glover says the current layout for the stadium doesn’t make room for that, putting Metro in potential legal trouble.

On Monday, the council’s Budget and Finance Committee decided by a 4-2 margin to recommend approval of a resolution by Glover that outlined an intent by the council to suspend the stadium project. According to News Channel 5, he sought to introduce a resolution during Tuesday’s council meeting to suspend the proposal, but that “since four council members opposed it, it was not discussed.”

Several votes by the council will have to take place in order for the project to be finalized. That includes a resolution to demolish buildings at the site, rezoning to accommodate a 10-acre development adjacent to the stadium, a ground lease for that development, and $50 million in general obligation bonds that include $25 million for infrastructure improvements and $25 million for building reconstruction.

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