One of the most-debated subjects in Nashville right now is how — or whether — the city will build a new Major League Soccer stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds. Almost every day, there’s a new contract being discussed or another city agency making a decision.
WPLN’s Jason Moon Wilkins and Tony Gonzalez sort out where things stand — and where they’re going — with the stadium.
JMW: So, a lot of the details seem to be up in the air on this, but the major league franchise has already been awarded. So, where is Nashville in terms of getting this team?
TG: Well, this is complicated. The simplest part is that the city won the franchise bid from the league — big news back in December — but it was by no means a completely finished plan, especially for the stadium.
The council voted resoundingly in favor of a deal. The stadium would be paid for mostly by the team, the city would upgrade the fairgrounds, and Metro would provide some land for private development around the stadium.
Since establishing those basics, it’s been a battle. A lot of officials would say this much debate would be reasonable for a deal of this size. But there are those out there who want to block the stadium, especially at the fairgrounds.
You should keep in mind, the stadium and its location were absolutely key in Nashville even receiving the bid for the team over other larger cities.
JMW: You mention that divide. What are the factions? Who is really for and against the stadium plan?
TG: I would say there are at least three camps of people out there. There are the pro-soccer leaders who say a new stadium at the fairgrounds is a key piece to keeping that property relevant into the future. They also say the project would generate far more tax dollars and economic activity than it would cost. They also see soccer as a unifying sport for the city’s international residents.
On the other end, there’s the strong opponents. Whatever they think about bringing MLS to town somewhere, they think a stadium at the fairgrounds is a disruption and too costly.
And there is an interesting middle ground. There are neighbors and activists who have fought hard to create a Community Benefits Agreement. Basically, what that does is it says that they’d be happy with the team and stadium only as long as there was affordable housing nearby, and good-paying jobs associated with the project. They do say they have 30 council members backing their ideas.
JMW: Well, as this deal reaches a very critical juncture, what are you going to be looking for in the next couple weeks?
TG: You know, there are at least five MLS bills going to the Metro Council for debate. That will happen this week, at a special meeting next week, and there could be a final vote on Sept. 4.
There are also other groups — the Fairgrounds Board, the Sports Authority — that have decisions to make.
Overall, I think everyone is trying to see how big or small the alterations will be on the stadium deal. It’s kind of walking a tightrope now. If council members lose faith or need for more time, that could make it tough for the stadium to be ready by 2021. That's the year when the team says it wants to start at the fairgrounds.
JMW: Well, and we haven’t even gotten to the public referendum possibility that was brought up last week. If that happens, it seems like it could be a make-or-break?
TG: Yes, so in addition to all of these debates, there was this sudden announcement that some council members want to ask the public, in a ballot measure, to approve or disapprove Metro’s bond financing for the stadium. We’ll hear a lot more about that this week. The referendum idea could get shot down, but if it gets on the ballot, then yes, it does seem like a make-or-break vote for bringing MLS to Nashville to a stadium at the fairgrounds.
JMW: So what if a stadium at the Fairgrounds were rejected? Does that mean no more Major League Soccer team for Nashville?
TG: This is a really hard one. We can say that the Nashville team is already supposed to play its first year somewhere else before the new stadium would be ready.
But MLS does make stadiums a priority. They’ve delayed a team in Miami for several years because of the lack of a new stadium, and there’s this big battle going on in Columbus, Ohio. The owner there is considering relocation to Austin because he’s dissatisfied with the team’s current facility.
So we can say that stadiums are a huge deal in the MLS.