Legislation Proposed to Launch Demolition for Nashville SC Stadium Project

Nashville SC stadium rendering August 2019

As the impasse between Nashville SC and Nashville mayor John Cooper continues, a Nashville Metro council member is proposing legislation to launch demolition for the Fairgrounds stadium project without the mayor’s signature.

Nashville SC, backed by an investment 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 about a third, in order to provide unimpeded access to the racetrack.

Despite Nashville SC’s previous hope of announcing progress in the discussions by February 6, the stadium plan is still stalled. Seeking to break that impasse, council member Colby Sledge–who supports the Nashville SC stadium project, and represents the district that includes the Fairgrounds–has filed legislation that would allow the work to begin without Cooper’s signature.

The legislation was proposed Friday, and is slated to receive its first consideration from the council on February 18. More from The Tennessean:

Sledge, a soccer supporter whose district includes the fairgrounds, wants Metro Council to validate the demolition contract even if Cooper continues to postpone the deal.

“All contracts procured through an invitation to bid process shall become effective and operative not later than 30 days after the final award is made, regardless of the signature of the mayor, a department head, or the chair of a board or commission,” the proposed ordinance states. 

If approved, the ordinance would apply to contracts previously awarded through the a bid process after all appeals are complete, and any future such contracts, not just the fairgrounds demolition. 

Nashville SC has pushed back against the idea of removing land from the development component of the project, pointing to a community benefits agreement (CBA) 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.

In an opinion piece published by The Tennessean on Sunday, Cooper outlined his side of the issue, including his logic for exploring the potential Speedway project:

The historic fairgrounds campus deserves a master plan that works for all its uses and visitors. If we successfully integrate soccer and new development with enhanced historical uses, our fairgrounds will be one of Nashville’s signature public spaces. One historical use is auto racing, which is mandated by our Metro Charter. I’m working to find a path for racing’s success, and in these negotiations, I’ve secured additional space to allow for necessary speedway improvements. Higher-level auto racing will attract more visitors and ensure the long-term sustainability of the fairgrounds.

I’m hopeful that the 2.4 acres between the soccer stadium and the speedway (“Parcel 8c”) can be redesigned to create a public plaza worthy of the two great sports in neighboring 30,000-seat venues. A multi-functional plaza would address the operational needs of multiple fairgrounds uses, create open space on a campus home to Fair Park and Browns Creek Greenway, and shape a unified and beautiful fairgrounds for generations….

Throughout the process, I’ve remained fully supportive of the community benefits agreement between Stand Up Nashville and Nashville Soccer Holdings. Metro government was never party to that agreement, but I am working to support its enforcement by including reference to the CBA in the lease agreement.

Nashville SC has been concerned about the delays to the project and it submitted an offer of an additional $54 million to cover costs related to delays. The club’s ownership group took the step Friday of filing a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that the coalition Save Our Fairgrounds has filed against the city in an effort to halt the project, contending that it would interfere with existing uses at the complex. After the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge last March, the group successfully had that decision overturned by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in July. It has been determined that the case can proceed to trial, with a hearing slated for Friday to choose a date. Meanwhile, the team has launched a website and online petition urging Cooper to move forward with the stadium project.

Rendering courtesy Nashville SC.

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