It’s finally here. Music City, USA has added another sparkling jewel to its crown of performance halls and community venues with Geodis Park, the newly minted 30,000-seat capacity stadium that hosted its first MLS game on May 1.
Nashville SC’s 1-1 tie with the Philadelphia Union on May 1 was a priceless piece of Nashville sports history and a special moment for the fans and club employees who’ve waited over five years — since MLS announced it was awarding Nashville a franchise in late 2017 — for a stadium to call home.
"It was kind of surreal, really,” Nashville CEO Ian Ayre told Soccer America. “When I arrived in 2018, the stadium was a drawing on a tabletop on a piece of paper. The USL team had only just started. To be one of the first employees of an MLS franchise and go through all of it until the opening game ... it was all kind of strange to take in.”
The blueprint sitting on that table four years ago, funded largely by billionaire John Ingram, went through dozens of iterations as club reps worked alongside Hastings, a second-generation Nashville architecture firm and Populous, the world’s leading stadium-building group, until everyone was satisfied with the project.
“One of the things that was really important was that we would use this word, ‘authentic,’” said Ayre (photo above). “The design was focused on that. Four separate stands with a full canopy that catches all the acoustics and concentrates energy. A big supporter's section behind the goal.”
The vision for Nashville’s home was to pay homage to soccer stands of old. The stadium’s build reflects some of the iconic four-stand stadium designs in England, such as Fulham’s Craven Cottage or Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. The secret for David Powell, one of the lead designers with Hastings, was meshing the team’s desire for soccer authenticity with elements of its neighborhood and Nashville’s identity.
“What we brought to the table was the Nashville feel, the city history and its aspirations," Powell said. "Where we’ve been, where we want to go, and what we want to represent.”
The Geode — as some fans are calling it — is in south Wedgewood-Houston, home to Nashville’s burgeoning arts district.
Bordered to the north by industrial-style warehouses and to the south by the Nashville fairgrounds and Speedway, “WeHo” was a seedy stretch of town before local artists and musicians, attracted by cheap rents and proximity to downtown, moved in.
Weho’s gentrification has made it one of Nashville’s hottest neighborhoods. One street houses the studio where Taylor Swift recorded her first album and another is home to where Jack White presses his records. An Apple Music store is set to open there later this year. Designing the stadium required a careful balance between modernity and respecting the neighborhood’s industrial past.
“From the large, exposed steel structure that holds up the large canopy of the speedway right next to the Park, to the brick warehouses with steel trusses that hold up the roof of mills to the north ... that all is represented in the architecture of Geodis Park,” Powell said.
The steel posts that hold up the four stands mirror its neighborhood’s heritage; at the same time, the single brick boxes that march along the bottom of the stadium represent the single family homes that predominate the neighborhood. More than anything, though, the Geodis Park build sought a feeling of community. That’s why, although there are two levels of seating in the stadium, there is only one concourse — it brings everyone together.
Nashville SC is the only current MLS club to break ground for its stadium during a pandemic. For the team, momentum was lost. Ayre says the loss of momentum in that time was terrible for the club — especially when it was left out of the MLS Is Back Tournament due to a Covid-19 outbreak. “We had this feeling that the world is against Nashville Soccer Club,” Ayre recalls. “That kind of galvanized our whole organization. When we did get back to playing, we just had this total siege mentality.”
Back at the stadium site, contractors were able to get ahead of the supply line malfunctions that have halted many other construction projects; the barren streets during the summer of 2020 were, ironically, a boon for the stadium build — while backhoes excavated Geodis Park’s lower bowl, trucks were able to move thousands of tons of matter a day thanks to the nonexistent traffic. The stadium was set to be ready ahead of schedule; meanwhile, Nashville SC marched its way to the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs in their first-ever season while playing at Nissan stadium.
This season, they have a place they call home, built with care for the team’s, neighborhood’s, and city’s identity. The team boasts 23,000 season-ticket holders and counting for a 30,000-capacity stadium, a promising number for one of MLS new arrivals.
For a town home to plenty of acts that shone brightly but never made it onto the big time, only time can tell whether Nashville can keep the Geode rocking for good. Ayre says that this is just the beginning.
“We're not thinking that we can just smoke the cigar and enjoy it,” Ayre said. “We have so much more to do. But right now, I do think we're the biggest show in town.”Photos: Nashville SC and Hastings Architecture