NASHVILLE, TN – In a much anticipated decision last week, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle cleared the way for a professional soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds. It will mean the end of the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville that has been held at that site for more than a century.
Fairgrounds supporters lost the lawsuit and, ironically, it was Lyle’s final order on October 13 that has ultimately proved their case. Plaintiffs have alleged all along that Metro was trying to get rid of the fair.
On October 12, the Tennessee State Fair Commission voted to move the Tennessee State Fair someplace else, probably Wilson County, but that will require $14 million from state legislators to prep the site. So its fate is in question.
So are the fates of the flea market and the racetrack. Plaintiffs have long argued that Metro always intended to do away with anything that conflicted with MLS soccer games. Time will tell if that all comes to pass but the Tennessee State Fair is probably already gone. Lyle’s decision pretty much drove a nail in its coffin. The Fair Board stopped hosting gun shows at the Fairgrounds in 2015.
Lyle is up for reelection in 2022. Mayor John Cooper is up for reelection in 2023. They and members of Metro Council who voted for it may regret their decision to give away 10 acres of public land to private developers and owners of Nashville SC. They will make millions but average tax-paying residents will get a tiny dog park.
“There was a deal made more than 100 years ago when the state secured the site for the future of the Tennessee State Fair and that was underscored when the charter amendment passed in 2011,“ said John Rose, Chairman of the Tennessee State Fair Association (TSFA).
Rose said the TSFA is not against MLS. He called it a great win for Nashville. “But if they are going to take our home, the home of the Tennessee State Fair, then its incumbent upon them to find us another site for the Tennessee State Fair. They have completely abdicated their responsibility and unfortunately the court has affirmed that abdication,” Rose said.
Despite her polite demeanor, Lyle basically dismissed the testimony of State Fair officials like Rose who actually knew what they were talking about. Instead, she gave great credence to two Metro experts, one of whom, according to sources, never even visited the site.
Lyle’s 62- page decision dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice and ordered court costs to be paid by the plaintiffs. “The evidence showed that there is no intent or design of Metro or the Intervening Defendants to destroy or eliminate the Existing Uses,” Lyle wrote. She wasn’t paying attention or didn’t believe what she heard.
Both Scott Jones, who ran the Tennessee State Fair from 2010-2019, and Rose testified that a soccer stadium would cripple their ability to put on a state fair. There is not enough room and their attorney proved the lack of parking would hurt all the other events held at the Fairgrounds as well. But that didn’t convince Lyle. She ruled Metro can do what it wants with the property.
So the new private MLS soccer enterprises will supplant the tried and true traditions of the once-public Fairgrounds, which have always made money for the city. Plaintiffs say the city will lose about $2 million a year if the stadium is built. Save Our Fairgrounds attorney Jim Roberts said he is not sure if he will file an appeal in the case.