After a contentious and public political battle, Major League Soccer expansion side Nashville SC and the city’s mayor, John Cooper, have reached an agreement for a 30,000-seat soccer stadium to be built at the city’s fairgrounds.
Under the agreed upon terms, Nashville SC will fund 100 percent of stadium construction with private money through investments, stadium lease payments and revenues generated by events at the stadium. Cooper and the club have agreed to a statement of principles including open space between the soccer stadium and the historic speedway at the fairgrounds.
The demolition process at the site, which will remove old expo buildings, will begin immediately, according to a release from the club.
Under this revised deal between Nashville SC and the city, “taxpayer and budget burden” for stadium construction has been eliminated, according to the release.
“I’m so glad we’ve reached a better deal for Nashville. I’m grateful to Nashville Soccer Holdings and John Ingram for understanding our city’s financial realities and agreeing to pay up to $54 million in additional costs,” Cooper said in a statement. “This deal saves the taxpayers money and provides a better site plan for the Fairgrounds. Today is an exciting step forward for sports in Nashville.”
Ingram, the owner of Nashville SC, added in a statement: “We are very happy to be moving forward with the stadium construction. The investment we are making is not just for our soccer team, it is an investment in the future of Nashville and the fairgrounds.”
According to releases from the club and Cooper’s office, the revised stadium plan includes the following updates:
- Nashville SC will pay for infrastructure in the immediate vicinity of the stadium estimated to be $19 million.
- Nashville SC will assume the city’s obligation to pay up to $35 million toward lease payments.
- Nashville SC has 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.
In short, Nashville SC is on the hook for a bigger portion of the cost of the stadium than it previously was. The city will still issue $225 million in bonds for the stadium and pay $25 million for stadium-related infrastructure, according to the Tennessean.
One of the elements holding up progress on a deal between the club and the city for a stadium was NASCAR entering the picture. Speedway Motorsports made a $60 million pitch to renovate Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, according to the Tennessean. Cooper was attempting to rework an agreement that his predecessor, David Briley, had made with Nashville SC.
Earlier this week, Cooper met with Tennessee governor Bill Lee and told WKRN-News 2 that he requested state funding to help bring NASCAR to the fairgrounds. Cooper also told WKRN-News 2 that he predicts to see both MLS and NASCAR at the fairgrounds in the future.
When Cooper refused to sign documents that would allow demolition to begin, Nashville SC and MLS applied public pressure on the city and Cooper, sending letters, issuing statements and beginning a social media petition and campaign powered by the hashtag “#BuildTheStadium.”
While Cooper and the club have an agreement, there is still an ongoing lawsuit that could impact the stadium’s progress. A group of flea market vendors called “Save Our Fairgrounds Coalition” sued the city in September over the stadium plans, arguing that a soccer stadium would make it impossible for the Nashville Flea Market to operate there, according to the Tennessean. On Feb. 5, a judge ordered that the case can proceed to trial.
As a USL Championship club in 2018 and 2019, Nashville SC played the majority of its matches at First Tennessee Park, a venue primarily used for minor league baseball. This season – its first in MLS – the club will play its matches at Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
For its home opener on Feb. 29 vs. Atlanta United FC, the club has already sold more than 30,000 tickets and will open the top level of the stadium.