The Beacon Center’s Mark Cunningham Discusses Lack of Transparency in $2.1 Billion Titans Stadium Deal

Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the Director of Communications for the Beacon Center, Mark Cunningham to the newsmaker line discuss the lack of transparency in the new Titans stadium $2.1 billion-dollar deal.

Leahy: On the newsmaker line, about to enlighten us about this terrible Tennessee Titans stadium deal with the Beacon Center director of communications Mark Cunningham. Mark, good morning.

Cunningham: Good morning. Sounds like you’re already pretty enlightened if you know the deal’s terrible, so I’m glad to start on that type of footing.

Boucek: Mark, why do you hate football?

Leahy: Yes, really. Why do you hate football, Mark?

Cunningham: That’s funny.

Leahy: Last night, the Metro Council, on the second reading, passed the authorization that all the sales, the hotel occupancy increase tax will just go to fund the stadium or fund the municipal bond. And that’s going to supposedly raise $760 million to be part of the $2.1 billion. Mark, $500 million is being given to the Tennessee Titans Amy Adams-Strunk by taxpayers of Tennessee. How on earth did that happen?

Cunningham: That’s a great question. And the problem is that as much as I criticize the Metro City Council, they’ve asked a million more questions than I heard from the state legislators. And it’s really kind of shocking that a state with generally a very good government, a very conservative government that watches their spending, just decided to hand out all this money.

So it’s really frustrating. And when you look at polling, everyone across the state dislikes this deal. We did a poll across the state and only 22 percent of people approved of funding from taxpayers going to the Titan Stadium.

This is a very unpopular deal. And honestly, as I said before, I have to give the City Council credit for asking some of these tough questions that were not previously asked.

Boucek: Mark, when you polled Tennessee taxpayers, did they know that the stadium is going to feature a Songwriter’s Cafe?

Cunningham: I think that’s the thing. They didn’t have that aspect. And maybe 100 percent if they do the Songwriters Cafe, which every great NFL stadium has a part where you have country music playing.

Leahy: You’ve gotta have it. The current Nissan Stadium, which according to one report, could be maintained as first class over the next 10 years for like, $300 million. They’re claiming it’s going to take $1.9 billion to keep it first class. I don’t think so. But I’m seeing a report that the new proposed stadium would have less seating.

The Nissan Stadium now is 69,000. This super duper dome stadium for $2.1 billion apparently is going to hold 50,000 folks there. What’s going to happen to the current personal seat license holders?

Cunningham: That’s a great question. They’re not even sure about that yet. I think your point is well taken. Nobody’s heard of this stadium in some ways worse than our current stadium. And that $1.9 billion number is just absolutely, basically made up.

That was the highest number if you put every single bell and whistle that nobody needs in a stadium. And the problem is that we haven’t really gotten a good estimate. And even Bob Mendes, the City Council president, has said, we don’t have an estimate.

That is from somebody who doesn’t have a stake in this project. The mayor basically did this himself. We would like to see a real estimate of what it would cost to upgrade the stadium in a normal way, not with a Songwriters Cafe. Even having a pretzel-making station. (Laughter)

I don’t know what else they want in there. I would like to see a real estimate of what it looks like. And that’s one of the issues that a lot of the council people have had said. We don’t know what it costs to upgrade. We are not legally forced to put a Songwriter’s Cafe and all these things. We have to keep it first class in a way that people aren’t falling out of their seats and dying.

That’s pretty much what the goal is. This whole idea that it could have cost $1.9 billion has not been shown by any independent organization coming in to see what an upgrade would actually cost.

Boucek: Mark, you made it clear that you hate Derek Henry, country music, and football, as well as pretzels. (Laughter)

Cunningham: I hate capitalism too, clearly.

Boucek: Clearly. My question to you is, like, are Tennesseans ever going to get a chance to vote on it? Is there going to be a referendum? Is there an opportunity for regular old Tennesseans to express their preferences on the stadium deal?

Cunningham: There is not. When the state put it through, they made it so it’s impossible for that to happen. The only last hope, I think and again the last hope we have is the Nashville City Council. They did pass on a second. It’s not done yet. But that’s one of the problems with these stadium deals.

They go through so quickly, they are planning behind closed doors ahead of time, and they don’t want people to vote on this because if people vote on this, it would get crushed. And I mean, at this point, you kind of just have to hold your legislators accountable and say, hey, I am not for this deal.

I was never for this deal, and I was never asked about it. One of the most infuriating things for taxpayers is that they have no say in this. And it doesn’t matter what they think, they’re going to go ahead with it anyway.

Leahy: So let me ask you this question. The Tennessee General Assembly said we’re going to give you half a billion dollars. That means taxpayers in Johnson City who will never go to a Titans game are subsidizing this. Taxpayers in Chattanooga.

Boucek: But they are the Tennessee Titans?

Leahy: Yes. But here’s the question. Is there anything that we could do in January when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes to get them to reverse this ridiculous financially reckless decision?

Cunningham: That’s a good question. I don’t think anything like that’s been done before. I think it’s always positive to talk to your representative to tell them how you feel about this. But I do think what you talk about is maybe the biggest issue people have is that if you live in Johnson City and never go to a game, then why should I pay to go to the Titans?

I’m never going to see this game and I’m subsidizing your team in Nashville. And even people in Nashville don’t want to subsidize it. And you had this other problem, which you’ve seen right after the Titans. I don’t know if you all pay attention to this, but Memphis.

Five different stadiums in Memphis asked for money. There’s some soccer team, there’s like 12 kids, basically a T-ball team that asked for money from the state because they wanted to have that. The Chattanooga Lookouts asked for money for their minor-league baseball team.

So they said, hey, you gave money to the Titans, you gotta give money to our city, too. And this is just this never-ending, you know, trying to get cash for this because we’ve already set a precedent saying we’re good playing professional sports teams and billionaires.

Leahy: I have a question for both you and Brad Boucek. Where in the Tennessee State Constitution or the United States Constitution does it say that the proper role of government is to give tons of money to private sports stadiums?

Cunningham: I’ll let the lawyer answer this one.

Boucek: It’s tough to find, but it’s in there because it happens all the time. So it must be true.

Leahy: It must be in there because it happens all the time. We got to stop this thing.

Boucek: Tennessee has actually got provisions in the state constitution that prohibit special treatment for specific individuals. Gift clauses are prominent in a lot of state governments.

Leahy: And you know what’s interesting about this?

Boucek: Some might call this a gift.

Leahy: The owner of the Tennessee Titans is a resident of Texas. Amy Adams-Strunk as far as I know. Isn’t she a resident of Texas? I don’t think she’s moved here. Why are Tennessee taxpayers giving $500 million to benefit a resident of Texas?

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.



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