Councilman Questions if Mayor Can Legally Stall Nashville SC Stadium Deal

Nashville SC stadium rendering August 2019

With planning for a new Nashville SC stadium at a standstill, a council member says he will request a legal opinion on whether Nashville mayor John Cooper can stall the previously approved agreement.

Nashville SC, which is backed by a group led by Nashville businessman John Ingram, will begin play this month as an MLS expansion team at Nissan Stadium. The club’s long-term facility plan calls for a new stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville, which is part of a previously approved agreement by Nashville officials that includes development of a 10-acre site adjacent to the venue.

Under the original agreement, preparation of the project site, including demolition of old, unused buildings at Fairgrounds Nashville, should have been well underway by now. However, Cooper–who assumed office four months ago–has not signed off on the demolition work and has begun negotiations with a group seeking to bring NASCAR racing to Nashville Speedway at the Fairgrounds. The cost of the Nashville Speedway renovations, as proposed by Speedway Motorsports, is $60 million—and Speedway Motorsports wants to see the 10-acre development scaled back by a third, in order to provide unimpeded access to the racetrack.

As the impasse continues, council member Colby Sledge–who supports the Nashville SC stadium project, and represents the district that includes the Fairgrounds–said Tuesday that he will seek an opinion from Nashville Metro’s Legal Department on whether Cooper can legally stall the agreement. More from The Tennessean:

Sledge, among several council members wearing Nashville SC’s blue and gold scarves at Tuesday’s Metro Council meeting, said he will file a formal written request asking Metro Law Director Bob Cooper to answer if the mayor has the ability to hold up the stadium deal, which was given final approved by the Metro Council in 2018. Sledge also wants to know what legal liabilities the city faces.

“I don’t intend to have that debate tonight,” Sledge said, adding that “in-depth conversations” have started up in the past week. “My formal request for Metro Legal is to find out where we stand legally.” 

Mayor Cooper has withheld his signature on paperwork allowing demolition work needed to make way for the new stadium. He has said questions remain on how much taxpayers will be asked to spend for infrastructure costs surrounding the stadium, including upgrading water and sewer lines, roads and possibly a new bridge.

Cooper, for his part, has cited concerns over infrastructure funding as a reason for the delay. Nashville SC has offered an additional $54 million toward the project to cover costs that are related to the delays, but whether that pledge ultimately helps break the impasse in the discussions remains to be seen.

Nashville SC has pushed back against the idea of removing land from the development component of the project, pointing to a community benefits agreement team ownership has with Stand Up Nashville. The agreement calls for specific elements such as affordable housing and child-care services—and Ingram contends that those terms could not be met without the 10-acre development. The team has also stated that it cannot wait any longer for work to begin, especially with the racetrack project still in negotiations and far from a public vote, much less a public discussion.

Rendering courtesy Nashville SC.

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