Negotiations have grown urgent and testy between Nashville’s mayor and the group that owns a new Major League Soccer franchise that’s scheduled to start play at the end of the month.
The league, the team and Mayor John Cooper went public with their impasse late last week, and by Monday there was no resolution. The team said it hopes for a “mutually agreeable solution” by Thursday, Feb. 6 so that work can begin on the stadium after a four-month delay. The team is scheduled to play its first two seasons at Nissan Stadium.
At issue is a prolonged renegotiation over the specifics of a stadium plan at the Nashville Fairgrounds. The mayor has refused to allow demolition to begin while he pushes the team to cover more costs.
Talks Go Public
Early last week, the mayor expressed concerns about rising infrastructure costs, which were going beyond what Metro agreed to fund.
By Thursday, the franchise said it would willingly pay millions more.
In a letter to Cooper, Nashville SC majority owner John Ingram says the team is committed to covering the nearly $20 million in overruns. He says the club will also forgo a $35 million agreement with Metro centered around ticket revenue.
“Nashville SC has worked to make the stadium deal even better and has proposed a number of new solutions to satisfy his concerns … The Mayor’s continued refusal to proceed is a deep disappointment to Nashville SC and MLS.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who met with Cooper in New York, said the league would not have awarded a team without the stadium commitment.
Yet Cooper has long been skeptical of the arrangement and has taken the position of the taxpayers’ watchdog. He voted against the proposal as a member of the Metro Council. And on his first day in the mayor’s office, he said he would reevaluate the specifics.
“I am glad that Nashvillians have an opportunity to see the significant taxpayer savings we have obtained from our negotiations to date,” Cooper wrote Friday. “Our financial commitment has not waivered. These ongoing conversations are about controlling costs and creating a site that works for everyone.”
Cooper has also been meeting with auto racing advocates, who want to expand the speedway that’s adjacent to the proposed stadium site. He said he’s intent on the fairgrounds accommodating multiple uses. Metro has already built several new expo facilities as part of improvements there.
Caleb Hemmer, a member of the Metro Fair Board, has called on the mayor to move faster.
“The racetrack improvement can be discussed at another time, and really should be decoupled from the current conversation so we can move forward with the MLS stadium construction and related planning that’s already been pre-approved by Metro Council,” he said.
More Issues Swirling
Central to the impasse is a parcel known as “8c.”
It would become the space between the speedway and soccer stadium. The mayor said Friday that it must be carefully designed with circulation, security, staging and access in mind. (The Tennessean detailed the battle over this parcel here.)
Meanwhile, the terms of a “community benefits agreement” (CBA) also await a resolution. The CBA commits the team to various provisions, including local hiring, a minimum wage and on-site childcare for employees. It was hailed as a first for Tennessee, but it’s contingent on the stadium plan.
The mayor says he remains supportive, but the community group Stand Up Nashville has aired its own concerns in recent days.
The group’s director, Odessa Kelly, said MLS and the mayor’s office haven’t been transparent about their negotiations.
“A lot of the things that we’re finding out, we’re not in the room. And then to come to find out that there are other third parties who are in the room, making deals, that’s not the type of Nashville that I want to live in,” Kelly told WPLN News.
Kelly considers the CBA the most critical part of the MLS development project and is calling on the mayor and soccer leaders to host public meetings when making decisions.
If all of this is not enough to consider, another significant decision is looming.
The group Save Our Fairgrounds has been pursuing a lawsuit against Metro over the soccer plan and its impact on the fairgrounds.
WSMV News reported that a judge is likely to rule this week on several procedural matters in that case, which could determine if it heads to a trial in October.