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Nashville SC, MLS hit out at stadium delays

Major League Soccer (MLS) and its expansion franchise, Nashville SC, have stated their “deep disappointment” at delays from the city’s Mayor, John Cooper, in approving the team’s stadium project.

Nashville SC plans on building the largest soccer-specific stadium in MLS with a capacity of 30,500. The club enters MLS this year and will begin playing at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans NFL American football team.

However, the League and the club have now spoken out following meetings held with Cooper yesterday (Thursday) at MLS headquarters in New York. Nashville SC had hoped to begin play in its new stadium for the 2021 season, but Cooper has stalled since October on approving the demolition of the old fairground expo centres, a necessary measure for the stadium to be erected.

In a joint statement, MLS and Nashville SC said: “The new stadium and ancillary development have very broad support throughout Nashville and has been overwhelmingly approved multiple times by Metro Council.

“Despite that, Mayor Cooper has not provided approval to begin the demolition to move forward with the stadium project. So, for the past four months, Nashville SC has worked to make the stadium deal even better and has proposed a number of new solutions to satisfy his concerns.

“Even with these proposed new solutions, the Mayor today refused to commit to move forward with the demolition and the approved stadium plan. During today’s meeting, MLS commissioner Don Garber made it clear to Mayor Cooper that 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. The Mayor’s continued refusal to proceed is a deep disappointment to Nashville SC and MLS.”

Nashville SC said it has agreed to work with the Mayor’s office over the next week to advance the discussions and finalise a plan to begin the stadium construction project. The two parties said they hope for a “mutually agreeable solution” and expect to have an update regarding the project by February 6.

In August, Nashville SC released updated renderings of its planned new stadium amid cost increases related to the project. The stadium is now expected to cost between $50m (£38.1m/€45.3m) and $70m more than initially planned, although taxpayers are not set to foot the bill.

The stadium had initially been expected to cost $250m, with the city contributing $225m in revenue bonds. The team was set to add an initial $25m capital contribution, while committing to cover all overrun costs along with the $150m expansion fee required by MLS.

The Tennessean newspaper said Cooper is keen on making a deal that also includes the Fairgrounds Speedway motor-racing circuit, while also holding concerns that taxpayers will not be liable for related infrastructure costs. The Mayor is said to have told reporters on Monday that overrun estimates for stadium-related infrastructure show at least a “doubling” of what was outlined under the approved plan.

In a statement responding to the criticism from MLS and Nashville SC, Cooper said: “Since entering office four months ago, I’ve worked towards a complete solution for the Fairgrounds that is both financially sustainable and results in a successful, unified site plan.

“This past week, I met with racing advocates as well as MLS. I appreciate MLS and its advocacy for professional soccer in Nashville. I also appreciate all parties are working together to improve the plan for the entire Fairgrounds, both in design and financing. I will continue to chart a path forward that makes good financial sense for all of Nashville’s taxpayers.”

Image: Nashville SC