NASHVILLE, TN – The City Council voted Tuesday night to demolish the Expo buildings at the Fairgrounds, declare land at the Fairgrounds surplus, and negotiate a ground lease with John Ingram for the stadium the city will build for his Major League Soccer team.
With those votes, the soccer deal moves close to final approval which will require 27 votes. Neither of the two resolutions passed with a two-thirds majority of the 40-member council. The resolution to tear down the old Expo buildings passed 24-7-8 and the ground lease resolution passed 24-9-6.
Mayor David Briley wants the council to approve the deal. John Ingram wants his team to play at the Fairgrounds. District 17 Councilman Colby Sledge sponsored the two resolutions, carrying their water to the council.
What will probably seal the deal is a key group of council members who have been listening to Stand Up Nashville, a coalition of community organizations and labor unions. Stand Up Nashville wants a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Ingram.
A CBA is a contract the city is not party to but which promises good paying jobs with benefits, support for a union apprenticeship program in the building trades, and could include other amenities like a community center, a park, or even college scholarships.
Council members rose one after another in support of Sledge’s resolutions, that is, in support of a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds, provided it included a CBA. But no CBA has been signed yet, no conditions have been settled upon, and four council members objected to “putting the cart before the horse”.
“Why are we even considering this? It’s procedurally wrong,” said District 23 Councilwoman Mina Johnson.
Sledge rose to assuage the naysayers.
“If we don’t move ahead it will send the wrong impression,” he said. Sledge urged the council to approve the two measures with the understanding they would be sent back to various committees for further discussion.
But that would make no difference regarding the demolition required to build the stadium. Council rules do not permit committees to amend or retract Tuesday’s vote to demolish the Expo buildings. In short, that part of the deal is set in stone.
Sledge said a public hearing about 10 acres set aside for private development and other issues is planned for Monday August 27th at 6 pm. He said it will provide an opportunity for the public to discuss the pros and cons of the soccer deal. If that hearing is as skillfully managed as Tuesday’s council meeting, a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds will be a done deal.
Before the council debated Sledge’s two stadium bills, eight speakers addressed the council during the public comment period. Six of the eight spoke in support of the stadium as a chance to build more affordable housing, provide good paying jobs, and worker safety as part of a Community Benefits Agreement between Ingram and Stand Up Nashville.
Two speakers spoke about police matters. Nobody spoke in opposition to building the stadium at the Fairgrounds, although there were at least fifty people wearing red T-shirts packed into council chambers. None of them got on the speakers list.
At Large Councilman John Cooper objected to declaring the Fairgrounds surplus property in order to build a stadium. He said many more people use the Fairgrounds now than will attend soccer games.
”You can’t take away from the many to give to the few. That’s not something you should ratify,” Cooper said. The red-shirted Fairgrounds supporters burst into applause. Vice Mayor Sheri Weiner gaveled them silent.