By Robert Walker
One thing that remains consistent in politics, whether it’s at the local, state, or national level, is people with money and influence are often able to get questionable and/or bad policies approved because no one takes the time and effort to properly scrutinize what’s happening, and because people are denied access to critical information that might otherwise change public opinion.
Critics and opponents of the proposed new soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds have repeatedly made that case. As has become clear both from reports by Tribune staffers and Channel 4 news, there are many unanswered questions and concerns still lingering regarding this proposal. But Monday night a new deal was signed that may guarantee the proposal’s acceptance, whether these issues are ever fully examined or not.
That’s because the ownership team behind Nashville’s Major League Soccer team (which technically doesn’t even yet exist), and a group of “community stakeholders” announced they had reached agreement on a “majority of terms” regarding a benefits agreement that will supposedly provide the city a wealth of beneficial things.
According to news reports, this agreement guarantees affordable housing, community services, high wages for stadium workers ($15.50 per hour hour minimum), and a committee to oversee it all this happens. This landmark agreement was reached a mere two hours before a scheduled public hearing to vote on a proposal to rezone 10 acres of fairgrounds land for a private development next to the new stadium.
Granted, the deal contains many commendable elements. For example, a minimum of 12 percent of residential units, plus another eight percent of workforce housing in a housing development next to the stadium, are included in the affordable housing portion.. Their definition of affordable housing in this instance is 30 percent or less of indexed household income, with 20 percent of the affordable and workforce housing units being three bedroom.
The agreement also includes a 4,000 square foot child care center, another 4,000 square feet of retail space set aside for artisans and small business merchants, with the new soccer team donating equipment and providing other services to coaches and youth groups.
Finally all jobs for stadium operations will pay at least $15.50 per hour, with all employees in these areas hired by the team. They also pledge to hire “qualified local residents at all levels of the operation, and ensure that the 10-acre mixed-use development will “provide opportunities for local minority business and construction managers who meet criteria.”
Mayor Briley was already on board, urging the council to approve the deal. Businessman John Ingram has also been pushing it, as well as District 13 Councilman Colby Sledge. But two previous resolutions involving the proposal that passed Metro Council didn’t meet the two-thirds vote threshold needed to ensure final approval for the project.
The resolution to tear down old buildings at the fairgrounds passed 24-7-8. A ground lease resolution designed to expand parking options passed 24-9-6. But it takes 27 votes, and it was clear from objections raised a couple of weeks ago by District 23 Councilwoman Mina Johnson and At-large Councilman John Cooper that not everyone on the Council supports this project.
No one opposing the plan spoke at that last meeting, while six supporters were given forums to voice their reasons for backing it. None of the 50 people there displaying or showing opposition were allowed onto the podium. In addition, the Channel 4 investigative report revealed there has been lots of email communication between developers and Fairgrounds personnel that was kept from the public.
In those previously unreleased emails there were concerns expressed about parking, feasibility of the land, and its suitability for a soccer stadium. These communications were between fairgrounds personnel and those closely connected with the project. Given that these communications were kept secret until a few days ago, that raises the question of how can this proposal possibly be fairly evaluated if all the information about it hasn’t been disclosed? The fact former Mayor Megan Barry may or may not have been totally honest with the public in regards to exactly when the fairgrounds became a possible site for the stadium is another issue that hasn’t been fully or adequately examined.
Assuming that this deal proves the catalyst that gets the stadium project approved, the Tribune definitely advocates significant Black presence on the committee. That means multiple members rather than one token, and both Black men and women as part of this governing body. Plus, the Metro Council should be 100 percent certain all these things being promised can actually be delivered before signing off on a $275 million project.
The Tribune not only is skeptical about this supposed landmark deal, but questions again why such a push for this stadium? Currently Nashville has far more important problems than easing the way for an expansion soccer team. The city has issues with schools,infrastructure, crime, etc. We’d like to see the Mayor’s office put the same energy and effort as they are pushing this stadium proposal behind ensuring that North Nashville isn’t left out of the construction boom, that economic opportunities are being given to everyone in the city, and that problems with police/community relations are being addressed.
Also, all the things cited in that Channel 4 report should be openly addressed by everyone connected with the stadium project. They should begin with why they conducted so much business in private, as well as whether there is enough parking, and is the designated land really suitable for that purpose? They should also do a much better job of definitively showing why it’s better to put the stadium at the fairgrounds than elsewhere, and explain why a soccer stadium makes more sense and benefits the city more than the previously planned fairgrounds renovations.
While professional soccer would be a benefit for the city, it shouldn’t take precedence over a host of other things. Let’s first get police officers equipped with body cams and police cars with dashboard cams, improve the quality of roads in and around Nashville, make certain all schools have equal access to the materials and budget they need, and do something about the disparity in economic and employment opportunities for minorities among many items far more important than another sports facility.
Then, let’s make certain the fairgrounds actually IS the best site for a soccer stadium, and ensure the bulk of its costs, if not all of it, are not coming out of the city’s budget. After all that’s done, then proceed in actually building it. But there’s no reason to rush things, and certainly no reason to make a new soccer stadium a bigger priority than many other things more vital to the lives of Nashville’s citizens.