By Shane Alan Smiley
In 2009, Former Mayor, Karl Dean announced that the Fairgrounds was going to be shut down and redeveloped. His CFO, Rich Riebeling had convinced him that redeveloping the location where Nashville Comes Together and has used as a community gathering spot since 1891 was a good idea.
The citizens fought back.
In December 2010, the historic Metro Courthouse was packed on all floors with red shirted Fairgrounds Speedway supporters present for a public hearing to stop then Council at Large member, Megan Barry’s proposed legislation to destroy the historic Fairgrounds Speedway. This outpouring resulted in the largest public hearing in the Metro’s then 47 year history. The track was saved by one vote due to an amendment filed by then Councilman Jason Holleman. His amendment called for a “Master Plan” of the area from Lafayette/Murfreesboro Road to I-440 and I-65 to I-24. Ultimately, the footprint for the master plan was reduced to the 128 acres of the Fairgrounds.
During this process, I uncovered evidence that the Dean administration appeared to be using studies like the master plan to sell their agenda. The evidence pointed to the administration, who was paying for these studies, ensuring that the outcome of the study agreed with their agenda. With this information, I went to Council members, Michael Craddock, Duane Dominy, Robert DuVall and Jamie Hollen asking how we could protect the Fairgrounds from what could be a loaded study to fit the administration’s mission of redeveloping the historic Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Their reply was, Referendum!!
We went to work and on August 4, 2011 over 71% of county voters cast their ballots to preserve the existing uses of the Fairgrounds.
The next steps.
The next four years saw no improvement to the Fairgrounds and no acknowledgement of the citizens mandate from Mayor Dean.
Newly elected Mayor Megan Barry placed $12 million in Fairgrounds improvements into her 1st budget mid 2016. The cheapest paint job possible was placed on the buildings and then,the concourse of the Speedway received the same treatment. They chose to do the concourse paint job during the 2018 race season, causing numerous disruptions and forcing race fans to utilize port-a-pots during the agonizingly slow bathroom upgrades. Do any of us believe any other sporting venue owned by Metro would have such ongoing construction taking place on their main concourse during their sport’s season?
Of course they wouldn’t!!
The promised replacement of the speedway’s insufficient sound system has yet to be installed and funding for it has now been pulled.
Conversations were had about revamping the buildings during the fall of 2016 and then the announcement of MLS Soccer coming to the Fairgrounds came on January 26,2017; mere months after the appropriation to improve the existing Fairgrounds facilities.
In the 8/17/17 joint meeting of the Metropolitan Sports Authority and Board of Fair Commissioners, Metro COO Rich Riebeling shared that he had been working with the MLS ownership team for nearly a year. Showing that the $12 million in funding was likely meant for new expo facilities to accommodate the mixed use development and MLS Stadium all along and not the existing facilities at all.
The initial announcement for MLS at the Fairgrounds did not include a mixed use development. That came months later.
The leases tell the story.
The mixed use development lease is for 99 years. The MLS Stadium lease is only 30 years; proving that the emphasis on this proposal is on the redevelopment portion and not the MLS franchise. In fact, the MLS franchise is not even contractually linked to playing at the Stadium.
The Fairgrounds gets $10 a year for the 13.5 acre stadium lease and not a penny more.
Meanwhile, a Flea Market Vendor pays $1,440 for a single 10×20 booth (200 sq ft @ $1.67 sq ft) 36 days a year.
The stadium pays it’s $10 for 588,060 sq ft and gets to utilize it 335 days a year. If the multi billionaire MLS team owners were paying the same rate per sq ft as the small business Flea Market vendors, the MLS Stadium lease would be $982,060 per year; not $10. Why do these billionaires get a $982,050 yr. discount? They have never contributed a dime to the Fairgrounds while many full time vendors have been supporting the Fairgrounds for 30,40 and 50+ years.
It gets worse!
A vendor who sells food or drink at the Flea also pays the Fairgrounds an approximate additional 37%. The MLS ownership keeps 100% of concession revenue.
The State Fair, the reason for the venue, is the only other event of the 600+ held annually on the historic site to keep all concession revenue.
The non charter compliant mixed use development’s 10 acre footprint has over 400,000 sq ft of office space, 250,000 s ft of retail space, 900 apartments and a hotel in which details have yet to be shared with the public three years after the initial MLS announcement.
At current market rate, the mixed use will generate in excess of $10 billion for the ownership group + the future hotel revenue.
The lease of $200,000 a year with a very small increases in rate over the first 30 years will pay the Fairgrounds around $200 million, or 2% of the revenue generated before adding the hotel revenue over the course of the 99 year lease.The $200,000 a year is paid by utilizing 1/2 of the parking revenue from non soccer stadium events collected by the MLS ownership group.
The Fairgrounds currently receives 100% of parking revenue for all events except the Tennessee State Fair.
Nashville Soccer holdings gets 100% of parking revenue on MLS game days in the current proposal.
As you can clearly see, this proposal is a land grab and the corporate fleecing and corporate gentrification of a publicly owned gathering spot for the benefit of a group of multi millionaires and billionaires.
The citizens of Nashville voted against Mayor Deans redevelopment proposal. The Barry and Briley administrations, with Rich Riebeling at the controls, have attempted to freight train yet another redevelopment plan for the Fairgrounds and completely ignored the county wide conversation and vote from 2011 pertaining to Fairgrounds redevelopment.
The existing, charter protected events are already being negatively effected.
If this proposal is allowed to go through, the charter protected Tennessee State Fair will likely be forced to find a more suitable location outside of the Capital City and the Flea Market will assuredly fail.
The Mixed Use Development/MLS Stadium proposal is another attempt to redevelop the Fairgrounds and ignore the mandate by the voters to preserve the place “Where Nashville Comes Together” and has since 1891.
We can only hope that Mayor Cooper stands strong, honors the will of the voters and moves this proposal to a plan B site. He called for a site study while on council and according to Metro Legal, not a single contract has been signed. Therefore, they do not have a deal. The sooner a plan B venue for the Mixed Use Development/ MLS Soccer Stadium is identified, the sooner our citizens can move forward knowing their elected officials have their best interest in mind and not the Uber rich fleecing the citizens as has happened so many times in Davidson County in recent years.
We need to save this Nashville landmark from redevelopment just as we saved Fort Negley!
Shane Alan Smiley