Nashville’s Metro Council on Tuesday voted 31-6 to approve $225 million in revenue bonds for a soccer stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds despite concerns about the fairgrounds’ existing uses as well as the growing list of costly city projects.
Mayor Megan Barry pushed the deal to attract a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team to Nashville. Cities need to have a plan in place to be in serious contention. MLS is expected to choose two cities for expansion teams next month.
The deal includes allowing the ownership team to lease 10 acres for a mixed-used development including housing, a hotel and retail.
There also will be several recreational soccer fields, a dog park and a greenway.
The 10-acre development was a major sticking point for critics, who consider it a land giveaway designed to sweeten the deal for investors. Other concerns involved the revenue bonds and how much Metro could be at risk if the stadium doesn’t generate the expected revenue.
The group Save Our Fairgrounds fought the plan approved Tuesday just as the group previously opposed a plan by former Mayor Karl Dean to redevelop the fairgrounds. The group led a petition drive for a May 2011 referendum, resulting in 72 percent of voters opting to maintain the fairgrounds’ existing uses, which include a flea market, auto racetrack and the annual state fair.
Rick Williams, chairman of Save Our Fairgrounds, told The Tennessee Star after Tuesday’s vote that it was “sad” to watch the council “vote to undo what 72 percent of the voters in Nashville voted for in 2011.”
“This vote gives away taxpayer-owned property that was originally donated by the Rains family to our government in order for Nashville, Tennessee to always host the Tennessee State Fair,” Williams said.
Williams said Save Our Fairgrounds would file a lawsuit within a week “to undo this action taken tonight.”
Barry has said the fairgrounds’ existing uses will be protected, but critics don’t see how that would be possible considering the enormity of the project and parking needs.
Melissa Smithson, who chairs the Davidson County Republican Party and also is involved with Save Our Fairgrounds, wrote Monday that promoters of the stadium deal sounded like a “sleazy used car salesman” in pitching it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and insisting that “we must act now.”
“This deal is not good for Nashville in so many ways,” Smithson wrote. “It will cannibalize the existing uses of the Fairgrounds, and the city will be on the hook if the sport does not do well (we are already on the hook for the Sounds, Preds and Titans). It’s like our city leaders are addicted to development and the latest and greatest ‘must haves’, but our city has a lot of ‘need to haves’ we must address. Our surrounding communities have been ignored and in need of sidewalks, public safety, public works, schools, to name a few. Let’s start spending our resources on our neighborhoods and not downtown, and not to MLS.”
Soccer supporters, however, rejoiced over Tuesday’s vote, including Mayor Barry.
“The Metro Council should be applauded for joining the majority of Nashvillians who say yes to Major League Soccer in Nashville,” Barry said in a statement. “Their vote tonight puts Nashville in a very strong position to be awarded a franchise later this year by MLS. Thank you to [lead investor] John Ingram and the MLS to Nashville committee who have worked tirelessly over the last year to make this night possible for soccer supporters all across the Nashville area.”
Barry has also been pushing a $5.2 billion mass transit plan for Davidson County and a proposal to redevelop historic Fort Negley Park.