Nashville MLS stadium a done deal? Not so fast

When Nashville was announced as the winner of MLS's 2017 expansion sweepstakes involving 12 cities, it was because, in part, it had a stadium deal.

In November 2017, the Metro Council -- Nashville's city council -- voted overwhelmingly (31-6) in support of a plan for a soccer-specific stadium at Nashville's fairgrounds. It even agreed to finance the deal to the tune of $275 million in bonds.

All that was left were sign-offs on various aspects of the project by various city boards and councils. Nine months later, getting closure on the deal has proved to be a lot more difficult than most assumed it would be.

Monday's votes by the Budget and Finance Committee rejecting key aspects of the deal -- plans to demolish fairgrounds buildings, institute a stadium tax to help pay off the stadium debt and execute a lease allowing for private development on 10 acres of fairgrounds land -- aren't binding but reflect significant opposition within the Metro Council.

That sets up Sept. 4 -- one week before the USA-Mexico friendly in Nashville -- as a pivotal date for the prospective MLS team, which is slated to begin play in 2020 and open its new stadium a year later. The plans for demolishing the existing fairgrounds buildings and imposing a $1.75 ticket tax require a two-thirds vote -- 27 votes -- in the 40-member Metro Council.

Also in the pipeline:

-- Two long-time critics of the stadium project are trying to get a measure passed at Tuesday's Metro Council meeting to require the $275 million in bonds -- $225 million in revenue improvement bonds to build the stadium and $50 million in general obligation bonds for fairgrounds work -- go before voters on a Nov. 6 referendum.

(One of those critics, John Cooper, is also pushing to move the soccer stadium from the city-owned fairgrounds to private land in the city's downtown area.)

-- The Nashville MLS group must work out a community benefits agreement -- covering, among other things, pay for those working on the project and affordable housing on the fairgrounds development -- that passes muster of the Metro Council. A community benefits agreement was one of the most contentious parts to the stadium deal reached in Cincinnati, which was approved in May as the second expansion city from the original list of 12.

Barry affair. Local politics are at the heart of some of the complications.

Nashville was thrown for a loop when Mayor Megan Barry, who championed the stadium deal in 2017, resigned in March, after admitting to having an affair with the police officer who headed her security detail and pleading guilty to charges of felony theft tied to the affair.

Barry, whose son had died of a drug overdose last summer, agreed to make restitution to the city of $11,000 for hundreds of overtime hours charged by the officer related to the affair and serve three years of probation, in addition to resigning her position.
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