Resolving stadium dispute allows Nashville SC to focus on 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Through years(!) of progression in Metro Council and across the Mayor’s desk, Nashville SC’s stadium has seemed alternately inevitable and unattainable. With yesterday’s announcement that new Mayor John Cooper had reached a deal with club ownership to demolish the existing buildings at The Fairgrounds Nashville on the future site of the stadium, this thing may – finally – be actually across the finish line.

A late-January trip to MLS headquarters in New York City upon an Ingram Industries private jet was key to reaching the agreement. Even that quick hop to the Big Apple with Cooper and Nashville SC owner John Ingram aboard didn’t bring immediate resolution.

“This morning. I didn’t know it was signed until first thing this morning,” Ingram said, adding that he wasn’t confident that the deal would get done until “When we got it signed this morning.

“I can say that I wanted the general public to know what we were willing to do, and how much good faith we were willing to listen to what they mayor’s issues were, and we were responsive to those. We took them off the table and were expecting to get an agreement maybe done a little bit sooner than that, but we got it done, and now my focus is shifted. My brain is going to the future to go execute this and make this something really wonderful for Nashville.”

The 32,000-seat stadium will be a permanent home for the club after two years at Nissan Stadium – though the four-month delay between Cooper’s election and signing off on the deal could jeopardize a move for the beginning of the 2022 season. From a team perspective, the lack of certainty was damaging even to preseason preparations for the upcoming inaugural season.

“The feeling is one of relief,” said CEO Ian Ayre. “We’re not happy, we’re relieved that we can finally move forward again. For the club this was disruptive.”

Ayre cited not only that club management was affected by the lack of progress at the site, but that those effects trickled down throughout Nashville, including to community groups that signed off on a Community Benefits Agreement with Nashville Soccer Holdings and were expecting the promised investments.

Fortunately, the worst-case scenarios and hypothetical Plan B arrangements were avoided. MLS commissioner Don Garber was clear in late January that the progress in Nashville was a problem for the league, and he’s now satisfied to move forward.

“You can’t have a team play a game if you don’t have a place for them to play,” Garber said. “In the event that this was not going to get over the finish line, you’ve got to scratch your head and say, ‘what are you going to do?’ The reality is there was so much focus in energy and activity – both on the city’s part, but really on John’s team’s part to try to plow through the issues and reach an agreement that I think everybody’s pleased with. We didn’t have to worry about any plan B.”

At Thursday evening’s event in Nashville, the club also introduced new signing Walker Zimmerman. His feelings about a trade from Los Angeles Football Club to Nashville sum up not only fans’ excitement for the season, but their happiness in having stadium battles and local politics behind them.

“There’s nothing like those emotions that happen, all in the space of seconds,” Zimmerman explained. “You’re holding onto every word when you hear, ‘you’re getting traded to…’ You’re just fingers-crossed. They say, ‘Nashville,’ and you’re like ‘Alright, Nashville, LET’S GO!'”

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