The Nashville officials who oversee the city fairgrounds want the mayor to move ahead with construction of a pro soccer stadium there.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper has refused to allow demolition work to begin while renegotiating details with the owners of Nashville SC. But in the Metro Fair Board’s first meeting since the controversy flared up, members unanimously said there’s no reason to wait.
“We went through a very public MLS stadium process that went on for many, many months,” said Fair Board Commissioner Jason Bergeron. “I think it’s time to get moving.”
At this point, old, dilapidated fairgrounds buildings — with no power and dysfunctional plumbing — stand empty on the property. The structures were slated for demolition as part of a broad improvement plan and would clear space for the soccer stadium.
Board members say they spent months hearing from the public to shape this sequence of improvements, and they’ve already finished replacement buildings — leaving them urging the mayor to commence demolition.
The Fair Board will be sending Mayor Cooper a letter outlining members’ desires.
“I want to include, as well, that it’s not just about soccer. That we have been the stewards of this property and performed our responsibility,” said Fair Board Commissioner Erin McAnally.
She said the overall project is meant to deepen the community’s connection to the Nashville Fairgrounds and to “bring the facilities up to better standards and provide a world-class event space.”
But standing in opposition is the Save Our Fairgrounds coalition, which doesn’t want any work to take place. Duane Dominy, a former councilman who leads the group, said the city would take a risk by moving forward.
“It could cost them a lot of money,” he said Tuesday.
The group has convinced a judge to hold a trial to determine whether officials ignored the Metro Charter and its special rules protecting the fairgrounds.
“When we win the court case … we want to be able to sustain the fair and the protected uses in the charter,” Dominy said.
Also swirling this week: another round of talks about a proposal to bring NASCAR back to the fairgrounds. Several outlets, including NewsChannel5, reported that city, state and racing officials met Tuesday afternoon to discuss a proposal.
Earlier in the day, the fair board went on record saying that racing should be “de-coupled” from soccer, so that preliminary racing talks don’t delay the more advanced soccer plans.
Bergeron, on the board, said racing would need more public vetting.
“We’re nowhere near approving any racing,” he said. “There’s been no public process. There’s no funding.”
The mayor’s office has been fielding daily inquiries, from both reporters and other city officials, about the future of soccer and the fairgrounds.
On Tuesday, Nashville Fairgrounds Executive Director Laura Womack said she had an encouraging meeting with the mayor’s chief of staff, Bill Phillips.
“While I didn’t learn any new information … he has committed to increased communication,” Womack said.
In an email, the mayor’s office said Cooper wants a suitable plan for the entire fairgrounds, and that an agreement with the soccer franchise is coming “soon.”