Nashville SC

Nashville SC stadium update: Mid-December, 2019

Gotta preserve this… stuff. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Welcome back to your favorite local politics blog, For Club and Country! Construction has yet to begin on Nashville SC’s 30,000-seat MLS stadium, and indeed, demolition has not even begun at the Fairgrounds site.

While new exposition buildings are built and in use, teardown for the building they’ve replaced has been put on hold. While the demolition was approved by Metro Council nearly 18 months ago, new mayor John Cooper has put a pause on that.

The Tennessean published a feature yesterday on the situation. Some key snippets:

The project has stalled as Cooper holds off on signing paperwork to green light demolition of the old expo centers, a needed step to make way for the stadium.

Cooper has said questions remain on how much taxpayers will be asked to spend for infrastructure costs surrounding the stadium, including upgrading water and sewer lines, roads and possibly a new bridge.

Cooper does not oppose the stadium project and is “certainly supportive” of soccer in Music City, his spokesperson Chris Song told The Tennessean on Tuesday.

“Our financial environment has changed and we’re faced with tough choices. We must hold ourselves to higher standards in terms of the deals we make,” Cooper said in a statement to the Nashville Business Journal.

Initially slated for October, the demolition contract will expire mid-December. Officials are in talks about extending the bid at current pricing in order to avoid rebidding the contract.

Quite a bit to unpack there. First, Cooper continues his consistent statements that he supports the MLS franchise, but also his consistent statements that he has concerns about the Fairgrounds deal – nothing new there.

Cooper also mentions that he has more investigating to do about the infrastructure costs surrounding the stadium site – another somewhat-consistent concern raised since he ascended to the mayor’s office. What was Cooper doing when he, as a member of Metro Council, was in the meetings at which infrastructure expenditures were approved? We may never know. Similarly, his choice to quash (at least temporarily) a deal that his Metro Council already made certainly jibes with his “hold ourselves to higher standards.”

At-Large Council Members Bob Mendes and Steve Glover appeared on NewsChannel 5’s Inside Politics this week, where they dipped into the stadium situation, as well (you’re interested in the third video, starting about two minutes in). Mendes has largely been supportive of the stadium, while Glover – in his previous life as District 12’s Council Member before winning an at-large seat in September – was the staunchest anti-stadium CM.

“We’ve all seen a movie where there’s – right before a bar fight breaks out – there’s tension, and you don’t know whether it’s going to be a big brawl or people are gonna walk away,” Mendes said on the program. “I feel like that’s what’s going on with soccer right now. I have no idea whether there’s going to be a big brawl, where the mayor’s office tries to move the deal, of if everybody shakes hands and goes forward.”

“Let me say this: I’ve never been against soccer, I’ve been against the way the deal was done,” Glover added. “I thought it was a terrible deal given the economic standards and economic economy of where we are in Nashville right now. It was beyond a terrible deal. That being said, I’m certain it’ll go forward some way. I’m going to have to say I’m like [Bob]: I don’t know exactly where it’s going to land yet.”

Certainly that’s each CM indicating that – whether they are in favor or not – the stadium is going to happen. The amount of fighting and politicking that happens along the way is the variable. It seems most likely that it ultimately is built at the planned site as voted upon (and promised to both MLS and Nashville Soccer Holdings). Mendes’s thoughts on the matter are very slightly hedged, but pretty unambiguous.

“I think it’s impractical to move it,” he said. “I think it’s impractical to put it in a different place. I don’t know how this is going to end up. Whatever the deal was, this is one where, the national economy – which does make our local economy go, with jobs, etc. – needs to be able to rely on what we said we’re going to do.”

Certainly the concept of honoring deals agreed to – whether or not you agree with said deals – is something that has been a consistent theme for the pro-stadium crowd. Even Glover seems to concede that point, and evidently only the mayor is less intent on following through on the municipality’s word. Your mileage may vary as to whether that’s an honorable stance in the face of a tough decision or if reneging on promises made reflects poorly on Metro.

Jumping back to the last quoted portion of the Tennessean article: the demolition contracts that have been bid out are on the verge of expiration. Letting the current term on those contracts expire (while the contracts themselves can be extended) looks like a bone thrown to the anti-stadium crowd. Ultimately, if it doesn’t harm the deal actually getting done, it’s a little both-sides-ism that lets Cooper play to his base but not diminish the reputation of Metro Government in the long term. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

And in the Judicial Branch…

Now that we have the legislative and executive updates out of the way, let’s pop back to our other favorite part of the government… Metro Davidson Chancery Court!

The Save Our Fairgrounds et al v. Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee case is the most relevant one here. There was a scheduled Summary Judgment* hearing scheduled for Dec. 19 (next Thursday), which has been canceled. Instead, there is a hearing for the following day. At that hearing, Metro will amend its answer to the plaintiffs’ complaint(s), and will also move for a judgment from Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle on the proceedings that have taken place in her court room thus far.

If that does not resolve the case, there is a Summary Judgment hearing scheduled for Jan. 30. If we get to that point with the case still pending, either a summary judgment will be granted, or the case will drag on.

It is worth noting that at every step of the process, the plaintiffs have sought – and been denied – injunctive relief to halt construction at the Fairgrounds. Unless and until they receive an injunction to that effect, or win the case outright, Metro has maintained the upper hand throughout the judicial process.

HOWEVER… one could posit that Mayor Cooper’s delay on signing off to begin the demolition process could be a waiting game to ensure that demolition doesn’t begin until – resolved though the case has seemed to be in Metro’s favor on multiple occasions – at least after the Chancellor hears the motion for judgment on the proceedings. Essentially, it could be an executive backdoor into that injunctive relief, with the added benefit of a little hardball in the service of getting Nashville Soccer Holdings to chip in on the infrastructure upgrades.

In the end, the most likely outcome is that the demolition/construction processes begin soon, albeit with the delays pushing the timeline back just a bit.

*For the new ones, or folks who don’t remember: Summary Judgment is essentially a decision on the facts of law by the court without a full trial being deemed necessary.

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