Over the coming weeks, the Nashville MLS stadium plan will face critical Metro Council votes that could either make or break the project.
Last November, the Metro Council approved $225 million in bonding for a new MLS stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville. That was a major accomplishment for the Nashville MLS expansion bid, led by John Ingram, and ultimately played a part in the league’s approval of Nashville’s pitch in December.
While the November 2017 decision by the council was a major step in the process, the vote was contingent on several other measures falling into place to finalize the project. Since that vote, some circumstances in Nashville have changed, including the resignation of former Mayor Megan Barry, a champion of the project; a contentious budget process this spring; and the need for special elections that were triggered by Barry’s departure.
It is now left to Mayor David Briley‘s administration to file several pieces of legislation with Metro Council and gain approval by early September. Those include the demolition of existing buildings on the stadium site along with the implementation of a $1.75 ticket tax, rezoning (after it is considered by the Metro Planning Commission), approval of a ground lease for a 10-acre mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium, and $50 million in general obligation bonds for related expenses such as infrastructure improvements and new fairgrounds buildings. That will make the coming weeks crucial to the project, as explained in a deep look at the process from the Tennessean:
Briley’s administration is now set for a critical stretch that will decide whether the overhaul at the long-disputed 117-acre fairgrounds happens. The mayor’s office is bracing for a fight, and so is a team of lobbyists working for Ingram.
In the mayor’s corner remains Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling, an original architect of the stadium deal under Barry, who is still in place under Briley despite announcing his plans to depart the mayor’s office in the coming weeks.
Some council members still have questions about the stadium, as evident by a special council Codes, Fair and Farmer’s Market Committee meeting earlier this month.
Tanaka Vercher, the council’s Budget and Finance Committee chairwoman, even compared the fairgrounds issue to the cloud of uncertainty surrounding Nashville General Hospital, which was briefly targeted by Barry for closure before she quickly retreated. “Here we are again,” Vercher said.
Out of the four pieces of legislation to go before the council, only the bonds resolution will not require multiple readings. The ordinance for the building demolition is expected to be the biggest hurdle for the project, as it will require a higher threshold for approval (27 yes votes from the 40-member council) as opposed to a simple majority. If that legislation is approved, it will also enact the $1.75 ticket tax that will increase over time and serve as a funding source in paying off debt from the project.
Under the funding model unveiled last year, Nashville Metro would issue up to $225 million in revenue bonds for the construction of the stadium. The MLS group led by Ingram would commit a $25-million cash payment, and pay about $9 million annually to the Metro Sports Authority over a 30-year lease. That would cover some of Metro’s expected $13 million in yearly debt on the stadium, with the remaining $4 million covered by sales tax revenue generated by the facility and the ticket tax.
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