Certainly, the current stadium imbroglio in Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County is partially about soccer. No stadium, no soccer: MLS and Nashville Soccer Holdings’s joint statement made that clear. The back-and-forth between the Mayor’s office and NSH since that time – wherein John Ingram revealed publicly that he had already offered to pay every dime of the stadium’s cost, including covering some Metro bills that aren’t the soccer team’s responsibility, simply in the name of getting this thing over the finish line (yet again) – has been ugly.
But to simplify the matter as just about soccer (opening the door to “I don’t like soccer, so whatever argument I can twist is adequate” responses) is disingenuous at this point.
It’s fair to be a small-government ideologue – it may be a position I don’t agree with, but certainly I understand why some feel that way – and the people of Nashville elected one. However, the time to legislate such ideological positions has come and gone: all relevant legislation has passed Nashville Metro Council (largely by overwhelming margins), and been signed into law by then-mayor David Briley. By refusing to execute the law as passed by the Metropolitan Government, Cooper is in defiance of the Rule of Law (and I most likely don’t need to point out that the Venn Diagram between the small-government and rule-of-law groups is pretty much just one dark circle).
This isn’t about preventing a soccer stadium from being built, it’s about refusing to follow the law. Worse yet, it’s about refusing to follow the law for petty reasons. When the interests of “John Cooper, private citizen” are in conflict with the interest of “elected mayor of the Metropolitan Government,” we’re getting a really embarrassing look at which way those conflicts will be resolved.
More importantly, the money “given away to billionaires” (for the sake of clarity: Metro Government plans to finance revenue bonds which must be repaid in full by tax revenues generated by the stadium – and as noted above, NSH has sweetened the deal once again to completely take Metro off the hook) is largely to be spent locally, with businesses from the community. 75 million US Dollars promised in the first-ever Community Benefits Agreement in Nashville history is going to go down the drain. The mayor is preventing a billionaire from injecting $75 million into the local economy for… reasons. (This is now becoming an extremely disturbing pattern).
John Cooper is not saying “no thanks” to John Ingram.
He’s saying it to Stand Up Nashville, the District 17 community, and the voters of the county whose elected representatives have already approved the legislation to proceed with the move. This isn’t about John Cooper sticking it to soccer. It’s about John Cooper sticking it to a city that has proven, time and again, to be overwhelmingly in favor of this massive municipal undertaking.
Will a stadium end up revenue-positive for the municipality in the long run? Maybe not, though Ingram’s increasing commitments to bear the full cost of construction certainly have to make it close. The Field of Schemes-type libertarians masquerading as Big Time Thinkers would certainly say that’s not worth it. Through the lens of one such small-government ideologue – Cooper – you can understand why the squeeze of spending money isn’t worth the juice of helping the community. He probably feels like re-paving 440 is a bad idea because it doesn’t generate revenue, either. (To me, it’s a bad idea because of the traffic, am I right, folks?). The better this deal gets for Nashville, though, the more insulting it is to the citizens of the County that Cooper refuses to perform his obligation as its Chief Executive.
Following through on promises made is not important only in accordance with the Rule of Law, it’s vitally necessary to ensure that future investment in the city, county, and state will not be forestalled. Frustrating tone-deafness of the initial MLS/NSH press release aside*, it tangentially touches on the important point: if Nashville is going to strike deals as a municipality with major corporations only to break them at the whims of a zealot mayor (and again, we’ve seen him submarine – or attempt to submarine – deals with Amazon and Microsoft within the past week alone without any justification given), why would any such corporations plan to spend their money here when there are more reliable deals to be made elsewhere? I’m far from a “give tax breaks to Amazon to get them to come here” sort of guy, but if you want to make deals of any nature in the future, you no longer have that opportunity.
Most importantly, the Mayor must honor his duty to the office not only because, uh, it’s the job (though that’s obviously the most important part here), but because he was unequivocal when taking office that he would do so.
“That’s finished business. The MLS stadium, we need to make it a success. We need to make it a big success.”
Given what we’ve seen about his definition of “honor” in the past several months, of course, a man’s word doesn’t go far in this town.
*”Major League Soccer would not have awarded Nashville an expansion team without the commitment made by the city to build a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds” is the worst possible way to phrase that point, when “the promises made were instrumental in granting a franchise” or something of that nature would have come across less petty, more forceful, and more action-oriented.
Unfortunately, the way the club has handled public relations and shaping public perception over the course of the stadium battle has been a major problem – they should have been in constant communication with Stand Up Nashville explaining that there was nothing they could do to force the Mayor to do his dang job, so The Tennessean couldn’t disingenuously both-sides this thing – and has played a role in allowing the relationship with and leverage on the mayor’s office to deteriorate to this level.