With the city of Nashville and Nashville SC at odds over the future of a previously approved new stadium, the team has offered an additional $54 million to cover costs related to delays on the project—but it’s not clear whether the pledge will solve the impasse.
The award of an MLS expansion team to a group led by Nashville businessman John Ingram was contingent on city support of a stadium at the Fairgrounds Nashville, as well as development of a 10-acre site adjacent to the stadium. According to the original agreement, preparation of the Fairgrounds site, including demolition of old, unused buildings at Fairgrounds Nashville, should have been well underway by now. But instead of moving forward, Mayor John Cooper has blocked any work on the Fairgrounds site 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.
Like every other major venue deal these days, the agreement between the city and Nashville SC is complicated, with plenty of moving parts. And one of those parts is a community benefits agreement between the team and Stand Up Nashville calling for the likes of affordable housing and child-care services—an agreement Ingram says will be impossible to meet without the 10-acre development. Furthermore, in a letter to Cooper, Ingram says that the team cannot wait any longer before work begins on the project—especially in a situation where a racetrack project is still in negotiations and far from a public vote, much less a public discussion.
Part of the issue, it would appear, is that Mayor Cooper—who assumed office four months ago and did not negotiate the current stadium deal—doesn’t feel compelled to stick to the terms the city agreed to back in 2017. His statement, issued late Friday:
“Since entering office four months ago, I’ve worked towards a complete solution for the Fairgrounds that is both financially sustainable and results in a successful, unified site plan. This past week, I met with racing advocates as well as MLS. I appreciate MLS and its advocacy for professional soccer in Nashville. I also appreciate all parties are working together to improve the plan for the entire Fairground, both in design and financing. I will continue to chart a path forward that makes good financial sense for all of Nashville’s taxpayers.”
Demolition of Fairgrounds Nashville buildings, put on hold by Cooper right after taking office, is now an issue for the Fair Board. The old expo buildings have been shut down, with utilities turned off, and Fair Board Commissioner Caleb Hemmer says that the obsolete structures should be torn down immediately, per The Tennessean:
“While I am hopeful for an expeditious resolution to all the issues surrounding the MLS Soccer stadium project that leads to a compromise between Metro and the team’s principles in the coming days, I respectfully request you consider immediately executing the demolition permit for the obsolete Fairgrounds Expo buildings,” Hemmer said in the email obtained by The Tennessean.
The old expo buildings are no longer in use by the Fairgrounds and utilities have already been prepared for demolition. With no historical significance and salvage, they need to be removed regardless, Hemmer said.
Doing so, he said, would not only signal to Nashville SC and MLS officials that Cooper is moving toward a resolution, but also to Nashville residents.
“While I am hopeful the heightened focus on finding solutions over the past few days produces the results you desire, I along with many Nashvillians, am not only frustrated with the lack of progress by your administration over the past four months since your election, but concerned with the escalation of the issues and dialogue that has occurred this past week,” Hemmer wrote.
The Metro Council, by the way, already approved $25 million in bonding to tear down the obsolete buildings, as well as another $25 million in bonding to cover infrastructure costs related to stadium construction.
Rendering courtesy Nashville SC.
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