Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Nashville council members push back against mayor's closed-door $2.1B stadium deal

By Jon Styf, The Center Square, Oct 31, 2022 -  Opposition to a deal for the public portion of financing of a new $2.1 billion Tennessee Titans stadium is building amongst Nashville council members since the deal was first announced at a press conference by the mayor's office and then a non-binding term sheet was presented to the city's sports authority and East Bank Stadium Committee.

The deal includes a $500 million payment from the state of Tennessee, $760 million in bonds from the city's sports authority and an undetermined amount of future tax dollars that will go toward stadium maintenance, upkeep and East Bank infrastructure. The mayor's office hired private consultants, New York-based Inner Circle Sports, to help broker its deal.

"Backdoor deals are simply unacceptable these days," Council Member Emily Benedict wrote Friday while stating she is against the deal. "We must build public trust, and we can do so when we have all of the details available for everyone to see before we take action.

"Next week at Council, I will ask my colleagues to reject the Mayor's Term Sheet Resolution. We shouldn't be asked to approve hundreds of millions of tax dollars when we don't have all of the information. When we spend big money in my household, we gather all of the known unknowns before we decide what's in our best interest. Nashvillians deserve a government that does the same."

While analyzing details from the non-binding term sheet, East Bank Stadium Committee Chair Bob Mendes put together a chart highlighting the portions of the stadium deal that are actually tax dollars. The mayor's office has claimed that the new deal will relieve tax burden from Nashville taxpayers and claimed that the Titans will pay the largest portion of the stadium project.

But terms of the deal have shown that is not true as the Titans will put $840 million into the $2.1 billion initial deal.

"There's other options," Council Member Courtney Johnston said at last week's committee meeting. "I feel like we would be derelict in our duty as representatives of the taxpayers of this county to not vet the other options and how that would look, and how that would be financed. Because it hasn't happened.

"… they've just said it's going to cost $1.75 to $1.95 million to do it, so … Nope … and we're moving on to building the stadium and here's this beautiful shiny building and here's how it's going to be paid for. But we really haven't dug into the details of if we are going to renovate."

Mendes showed that a tax fund setup to pay for the sports authority bonds on a new stadium and future maintenance on the stadium includes tax money from an in-stadium tax, taxes from the 130-acre development planned outside the stadium, a new 1 percentage point hotel tax increase in Davidson County and a $3 fee on all tickets for events at the stadium.

"This is why legit deal professionals don't have the closing party or issue press releases for non-binding term sheets," Mendes said in a comment about long negotiations related to the Vanderbilt Medical Center.

"I want to emphasize that after two years of private negotiations behind closed doors, the team and the Mayor's Office have brought us a non-binding term sheet for the purpose of 'facilitating ongoing discussions,' " Mendes wrote in an overview of the deal. 'The public and the Council should engage meaningfully to understand where they are in the process…but we shouldn't be hurried.'

During last week's stadium committee, Mendes and Johnston objected to Nashville Finance Director Kelly Flannery's push for the council to consider an approval of the term sheet to be binding as the Titans would then continue costly stadium construction planning in hopes of the stadium opening in 2026 or 2027.

The committee has 11 more meetings scheduled with the next coming at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday on the team and city's community benefits plan.

"I find myself in complete agreement with my colleague (Benedict) on every point," Council Member Russ Bradford wrote. "I very much felt the tone from the administration and Titans are ramming this through without giving Council or the taxpayers a chance to speak up." 

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