The standoff between Nashville S.C. owner John Ingram and Nashville mayor John Cooper is getting pretty nutso, with the release of a letter from Ingram offering an additional $54 million toward the project if Cooper moves ahead with demolition to make way for a new stadium. Though it turns out not to actually be $54 million in real money:
- “In the spirit of cooperation, the Team offered to pay an additional $19 Million to Metro for infrastructure in the immediate vicinity of the stadium.” This is real money — assuming the team (sorry, the Team) isn’t playing games and reclassifying tortilla chip fryers as “infrastructure” or something — but not exactly a huge concession given that the current deal doesn’t specify who’s responsible for infrastructure overruns, so it comes down to How about we split the costs, where we pay $19 million (sorry, $19 Million) and you pay whatever’s left over?
- If ticket and sales tax revenues fell short of their $35 million projections, Ingram would cover any shortfall instead of making the city do it. This is worth something to the city, but almost certainly not anywhere near $35 million — how much depends on what you think the likelihood is of the taxes falling short, and by how much.
- Ingram would also cover $85 million in stadium construction cost overruns, which is nice and all, but it was always going to be on the hook for stadium overruns, so this isn’t a savings to the public at all.
So where does this leave Nashville S.C.’s total subsidy demand? The stadium financing plan is super-convoluted, involving the city selling $225 million in bonds and then being partly repaid by the team. My best estimate previously was that about $50 million would be covered by sales taxes kicked back to the team by the state, to which we need to add $25 million that wouldn’t be repaid at all, plus the cost of the 14 acres of public land that would be handed over to the team for free. Even if we give Ingram the benefit of the doubt about who is currently supposed to pay for infrastructure overruns, and assume that the team will do absolutely terribly at selling tickets and nachos … we’re still probably looking at upwards of $50 million in public subsidies, especially counting the land value. And if we don’t Ingram the benefit of the doubt, he’s just offering a bunch of stuff he might have to pay anyway or might never have to pay at all, which would make the value of this offer closer to $0.
All that said, it’s certainly a sign that Cooper has managed to shake loose a carrot, even if a dried-out wrinkled carrot, to go along with the stick of last week’s nastygram from MLS about how if they’d known the new mayor was going to be a pain about this maybe they wouldn’t have given Nashville a team at all, sniff. Given that it’s extremely unlikely the league will rescind the franchise now — I doubt the acceptance of the $150 million expansion fee was made contingent on the mayor approving demolition permits — Cooper has lots of leverage to demand whatever he wants.
Whether that’s a better deal for the public or just more room to build other stuff at the fairgrounds site, though, remains to be seen. Cooper’s response called Ingram’s offer “$139 million in taxpayer savings,” which it most certainly is not, while instead focusing on the issue of Parcel 8C, a teensy plot of land between the proposed stadium and the nearby racetrack that Cooper wants to retain (for a racetrack expansion, according to Ingram), but which Ingram is insisting on getting (for a parking garage, according to Cooper), to the point of threatening to pull out of the agreed-on community benefits agreement if Parcel 8C isn’t included.
This seems like a strange hill to die on, and yet here we are. It seems extremely likely that something will get worked out in the end, especially if Cooper is willing to accept How about we pay you the money we were going to pay you anyway? as a legitimate offer, but demolition was supposed to start by the end of last year and here it is February and still the standoff continues. Elected officials do the strangest things.