by Jon Styf
The Nashville Mayor’s Office is asking the Fair Board to approve a deal with Bristol Speedway to rebuild the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway without a final price tag.
Metro Legal and Bristol Speedway officials met with the Fair Board for a work session on the deal and the board was told that a request for quote would be put out on construction of the updated 30,000-seat grandstand, track and surrounding structures which would then be reviewed by a committee including one Fair Board member.
“At that point, I think the expectation is that the Fair Board will have approved the documents,” Metro Legal Deputy Director Tom Cross said. “It’s going to be, at that point, in the hands of the council and the sports authority whether to proceed or not. I think that the opportunity for the Fair Board to determine whether this is a project it wants to pursue is at this stage.”
The price of the deal originally was quoted as $75 million but has since increased to $100 million.
It remains unclear if the Nashville council will require a 27-person supermajority to approve part of the project, like it needed for the GEODIS Park soccer complex, if the plan includes fully rebuilding the track’s grandstand, infield, track and surrounding structures. Metro is required to seek a 27-person supermajority for any demolition on the fairgrounds site.
At the Fair Board meeting, both Cross and Bristol Motor Speedway President Jerry Caldwell addressed a report by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International in May showing that the planned funding for a $116.3 million project would fall short of its payments.
If the bond payments are not met by the designed tax fund, Metro Nashville would be responsible for making up the difference.
Caldwell said that the CSL report numbers were conservative while Cross said that the agreement changed in Metro Nashville’s favor after the report to ensure that the sports authority would have sufficient funds to pay the bonds.
“As depicted, total projected revenues in the first two years of operations are anticipated to be $714,484 to $1.3 million less than project costs,” the CSL report said. “Over the 30-year financing period, the aggregate shortfall in meeting project cost is estimated to be $6.5 million.”
The shortfall was due in part to attendance overestimates, according to CSL, based upon similar venues.
While the price tag for the project is not known, the 30-year lease with operator Bristol Motor Speedway and the renovation deal leans on a $17 million payment from the state of Tennessee, $17 million from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation and a tax fund that will include sales tax from events and any merchandise or food and drink sales at the speedway. Bristol, however, will keep all proceeds from its four main race weekends.
The track is limited to 10 racing weekends per year and the Nashville CVC was said to be planning to use the track for banquets and corporate events.
The sales tax deal is expected to bring in nearly $2 million annually when the track would host Cup races and $1.5 million in non-Cup years, per CSL, which is $600,000 less than Bristol has estimated.
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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Styf is a reporter for The Center Square.
Photo “Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway” by Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.