Metro has spent at least $30 million on infrastructure and improvements at the Fairgrounds, according to city records. Nashville SC owners, who pledged $25 million to match the city’s investment of $25 million, do not appear to have spent a dime.
The initial agreement between team owner John Ingram and Metro was touted as a public-private partnership for construction of the MLS soccer stadium. It included a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that promised good paying jobs for city residents. So far that deal has not benefited the community. Locals have not gotten many jobs at the Fairgrounds and Nashville taxpayers have $50 million of general obligation bond debt to show for it.
The Nashville Scene reported in September, 2018, that the city would issue $225 million in revenue bonds to pay for the stadium while the team would chip in an initial $25 million capital contribution. Metro released a press release in October 2018: “Stadium funding would come from a combination of three sources: $200 million in revenue bonds, $25 million in cash from the MLS ownership group, and $25 million in Metro general obligation bonds to pay for public infrastructure associated with the stadium,” the statement said.
On September 5, 2018 then Mayor David Briley signed Council Resolution RS 2018-1328. The resolution authorized the issuance of general obligation bonds “not to exceed $50 million”. Twenty-five million was earmarked for new Expo buildings and facilities at the Fairgrounds. Another $25 million would provide for infrastructure related to the proposed Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium.
According to Metro quarterly financial reports, $25 million in general obligation bonds was issued to the Fair Board by March 31, 2019. All but $2.97 million was spent by December 31, 2019.
Speaking at a Nashville Business Breakfast in December 2019, Mayor John Cooper said that Fairgrounds improvements would cost around $43 million.
“We have spent close to our $50 million already on the buildings, and that is before our infrastructure obligations to prepare for the stadium,” Cooper told WSMV.
However, $25 million was issued to the Sports Authority for MLS Infrastructure in the 2nd quarter of fiscal year 2020. Only $1 million was spent by December 31, 2019, leaving a balance of $24 million. Those are the most recent figures available and they do not square with Cooper’s figures and do not show a $25 million contribution by Ingram or the Nashville Soccer Club.
Although Cooper’s numbers didn’t add up at the time, Metro probably did spend $50 million before construction on the new stadium began. In other words, Metro has shouldered Nashville SC’s promised contribution of $25 million for infrastructure costs.
Calls and emails to Cooper’s office, to Kevin Crumbo, finance department director, and to Greg McClarin, capital investments coordinator, have not been returned. McClarin prepares Metro’s quarterly capital spending reports. The Tribune reached out to Zach Hunt, spokesperson for Nashville SC. He has not returned phone calls or emails.
Meanwhile, construction of the soccer stadium is well underway. It is being paid for with $225 million in revenue bonds taken out by the Sports Authority in December 2020. That is $25 million more revenue bonds than city officials had originally said would be issued. In February 2020 Cooper renegotiated with Nashville SC owner John Ingram. The convoluted deal cleared the way for stadium construction to begin at the Fairgrounds.
At the time Cooper said he saved taxpayers $19 million because Ingram agreed to pay for cost overruns. But under the original agreement, team owners were already on the hook for additional costs, expected to be around $135 million. When the new deal was announced, Hunt told the Tribune that the team was going to pay all the costs to build the stadium and that taxpayers would not be on the hook for any of it.
But where is the $25 million Ingram promised to put up to share infrastructure costs at the Fairgrounds? If team owners didn’t pony up their share of the $50 million in initial costs, and if you do the math, $25 minus $19 million, which Cooper said was a great deal, it means the team agreed to pay $6 million less than it had previously promised.
If Ingram didn’t put up any cash, his $25 million share of infrastructure costs may have been transferred into long-term debt by simply adding $25 million to the $200 million in revenue bonds Metro first proposed. The numbers fit and if that is what happened, someone in Metro government must have done it. In any case, taxpayers were left to pay all the costs of preparing the site to build the soccer stadium.