Nashville SC gains breakthrough on stadium impasse

The deadlock has been lifted on Nashville SC’s efforts to develop Major League Soccer’s largest soccer-specific stadium, with the team’s ownership group and Nashville Mayor John Cooper reaching a deal that will eliminate taxpayer and budget burden for stadium construction, allowing the demolition process to commence immediately.

The announcement yesterday (Thursday) comes after Cooper had stalled since October on approving the demolition of the old fairground expo centres, a necessary measure for the stadium to be erected. Earlier this week, Nashville SC urged members of the public to sign a petition to persuade Cooper to sign off on the plans.

Last month, the club and MLS expressed their “deep disappointment” at delays from Cooper in approving the stadium project. Nashville SC enters MLS this year and will begin playing at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans NFL team, before moving to its 30,500-seat soccer-specific stadium.

Under the terms of the revised deal, the team has agreed to fund 100% of stadium construction with private dollars through cash investment, stadium lease payments, and revenues generated at the stadium by attendees of events. The parties have agreed to a statement of principles including open space between the soccer stadium and the historic Fairgrounds Speedway, which is itself at the centre of a redevelopment plan designed to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville.

The revised stadium deal will now see the team pay for infrastructure in the immediate vicinity of the stadium estimated to be $19m (£14.6m/€17.5m). The team will assume metro’s obligation to pay up to $35m toward lease payments.

The team has also agreed to a general statement of principles for parcel 8C in the 10 acre mixed-use development to account for an open plaza that can serve the operational needs of multiple Fairgrounds uses. This parcel of land had been the main sticking point behind the dispute.

The city will issue $225m in bonds for the stadium and contribute $25m for stadium-related infrastructure as part of the original agreement. The team will pay for all overrun costs on the project, which is now said to have reached a price tag of $335m.

“We are very happy to be moving forward with the stadium construction,” said Nashville SC majority owner John Ingram. “The investment we are making is not just for our soccer team, it is an investment in the future of Nashville and the Fairgrounds.”

Cooper added in a statement: “We’ve reached an agreement and I expect work to start on the soccer stadium project in a matter of days. When I came into office, I inherited an incomplete deal that was not fully funded and did not provide for the success of all the uses of our historic Fairgrounds.

“I could not, in good faith, obligate taxpayers to more money or uncertainty around potential litigation. This deal lives up to our commitments to soccer, the Metro Charter, the other uses of the Fairgrounds, and my commitment to put taxpayers first in negotiations.

“Major League Soccer will be a great entertainment and economic asset to our city. I believe this is the best available implementation of the commitment Metro Council made to professional soccer. We accomplished three things by taking a closer look at the soccer deal.

“We eliminated financial risk to taxpayers by removing the rent guarantee on the stadium. That is a savings worth up to $35m over the next decade. The soccer ownership group agreed to pay for infrastructure work that would have cost taxpayers at least $19m. And finally, in addition to saving $54m, the result is a more unified, successful Fairgrounds, by providing open space between the soccer stadium and the historic speedway.”

Nashville SC opens its debut MLS season with a home match against Atlanta United on February 29. The club has already sold over 30,000 tickets for the game, leading to additional seating being opened up at Nissan Stadium. The club will play at Nissan Stadium for two seasons before moving into its new home.

Image: Nashville SC