Mayor John Cooper has been keeping his cards close to his chest. Former mayors Barry and Briley were quite willing to show their hands and give Nashville SC owner John Ingram what he wants.
NASHVILLE, TN – The promoters of the Fairgrounds stadium deal have a serious disagreement. Nashville SC owner John Ingram thought he had City Hall in his pocket but Mayor John Cooper has slipped out.
Even though MLS officials brought Cooper to their New York headquarters two weeks ago to sweet talk him, Cooper remained immune to their inducement of an extra $54 million to build the stadium. That’s nothing compared to what Ingram and his fellow team owners will make on what has been public property for more than a century.
Like Oliver Twist, Cooper may be holding out for more gruel but the bad smell of a crooked deal is pretty off-putting. “You can’t take away from the many to give to the few,” Cooper once angrily scolded his fellow council members over the soccer stadium deal.
As Mayor, Cooper has waffled about the stadium and he could just be waiting for it to fall of its own accord. It has inherent legal problems and Metro can’t get anybody to issue bonds to build it anyway.
Ingram and MLS officials went public last week, vilifying Cooper for not proceeding with the deal. “I also wish to reiterate—we are out of time,” wrote Ingram.
Ingram’s tone was shrill and petulant, just what you would expect from a man who is used to getting his own way and suddenly realizes he may not. Jilted billionaires can be downright nasty. Ingram told Cooper that the team has already invested “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Maybe, but not at the Fairgrounds. We asked the Finance Department about the $50 million earmarked for Fairgrounds improvements and whether Nashville SC had ponied up their share ($25 million). They haven’t. Metro has spent $29.3 million on the new Expo buildings and paid for them with general obligation bond funds.
Officially, not a dime has been spent on the stadium itself because no bonds have been issued for that purpose. However, in the last two months Metro paid $15,984 for “design services” at the Fairgrounds.
In March 2018 WSMV’s Nancy Amons reported thousands were spent on design services for the stadium months before council voted to even have one. Now two years later, the Finance Department is letting Ingram’s people misappropriate taxpayer dollars again.
Metro is spending money on design that is earmarked for Fairgrounds improvements and that piker Ingram hasn’t paid a thing. Considering three stadium construction contracts were improperly awarded to firms with connections to his owner’s group, Ingram cannot credibly claim he has been wronged.
As the Tribune has reported, Ingram insiders judged and awarded those contracts. (see Fixed) For that reason alone, Cooper has good cause to cancel the stadium deal all together. Ingram has a lot of nerve to be complaining about fairness and Metro’s obligation to do the right thing, by which he means, giving him what he wants.
Late last week Ingram said he wants to intervene in the Save Our Fairgrounds lawsuit. It’s not clear if there is any room for Ingram in Chancellor Ellen Hobbes Lyle’s courtroom. After all, there are only two sides to a lawsuit and Ingram would surely be a third wheel. He’s spitting mad at Metro, so he’s not likely to happily jump on their train. And the flea market vendors? Well, they’re an honest hard-working bunch and would never have him. So it is not clear if Lyle would, or even could, grant Ingram legal standing in the case.
Last week there was also the sad spectacle of Stand Up Nashville’s Odessa Kelly crying about City Hall and MLS not including her in their recent negotiations. Kelly and Ingram signed the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that promised union jobs at the Fairgrounds and which have yet to materialize.
That possibility never occurred to Kelly or stopped her from selling out 90% of the working stiffs in town who don’t have 10 acres of public land to swap for $15.50/hr. jobs. What a brilliant organizing strategy! She could unionize all of “It City” and it would only cost the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What Kelly failed to understand is that she really doesn’t have a seat at the table and never did. The CBA was just good public relations for the soccer deal. Nothing more.
There is plenty to go around but after all is said and done, most of the blame for the Fairgrounds fiasco falls squarely on Metro Council. They were manipulated by former Mayor Megan Barry and strong-armed by her COO Rich Reibeling, and herded like sheep by District 17 Councilman Colby Sledge. Those three were genuinely bad actors in the scheme. The feckless dim-witted council could have resisted but chose not to. Thankfully, half of them are now gone. So, too, are Barry and Reibeling.
Two-thirds of the former council voted and passed several resolutions to surplus land, award 10 acres to Ingram, and spend $225 million on a MLS stadium at the Fairgrounds. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim all those measures were illegal.
The council voted down the one measure that would have been legal: put the stadium to a referendum vote as required by the City Charter. In short, the previous council messed up royally. They broke with tradition, broke the law, and John Ingram isn’t very happy because so far he hasn’t gotten his way.