Nashville gives green light to MLS stadium

Nashville’s Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise has secured its intended site for a new stadium with a clear vote in favour of the project, despite much political hand-wringing.

MLS awarded Nashville its latest expansion franchise in December, marking the 24th team to enter the league through the bidding process. The $275m (£214.5m/€237.4m) stadium at the Fairgrounds Nashville site was a key part of this award, but it has since faced considerable debate amid a change of administration from Nashville’s previous Mayor, Megan Barry.

Barry’s successor, David Briley, has pushed on with the project and multiple votes yesterday (Tuesday) confirmed the Fairgrounds as the location of a 27,500-seat stadium, along with a 10-acre mixed-use development with housing, retail and a hotel.

The Tennessean newspaper reported that the key action, to demolish existing buildings and structures at the site, passed with a 31-8 vote. Unlike three other bills, which required simple majorities, the ordinance needed a 27-vote threshold.

Under the terms of the deal, the city will pay $225m in revenue bonds for the stadium while the team will make an initial $25m capital contribution. However, the franchise has committed to cover all cost overruns, and will also pay the $150m expansion fee demanded by MLS. A ticket tax of $1.75 at the stadium will also raise funds for the project.

However, several council members who voted in favour of the project admitted they were torn over their decision. “I’ve been tossing and turning about this whole thing,” At-large Councilwoman Sharon Hurt, said, according to The Tennessean. “But I’ve been converted. I do believe this can be something that’s great for this city.”

Councilman Mike Freeman, whose district borders the fairgrounds, also hinted that his backing could have an impact on his job security. “I have no doubt I will have to answer for my vote tonight,” he said.

“If I were to vote with my heart, I would be a no. But my neighbours have other ideas. They see this as a chance for South Nashville, especially the 16th District’s chance at major development.”

Before the decisive votes, the council also rejected 25-12 a motion for a referendum on the $50m in general obligation bonds. The resolution was sponsored by stadium critic, At-large Councilman John Cooper.

He said: “This is not about derailing soccer. This is about listening to the voters. What’s happened since the last time we voted on soccer? Our finance director has told us we’re broke. Get the public’s approval. For more than 100 years, this has been the most loved public land in Nashville.”

Nashville SC debuted in the United Soccer League (USL) this season and still has five home games left as it continues its push toward the playoffs. Nashville SC is expected to be elevated to MLS status in 2020 with Nissan Stadium, home of NFL American football team the Tennessee Titans, acting as its temporary venue before the new stadium opens in February 2021.

Image: Nashville SC