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VOL. 46 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 28, 2022

New stadium plan might be better deal for taxpayers

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Two main schools of thought compete on the proposed new, expensive stadium for the Tennessee Titans: (1) We absolutely have to build it, and (2) No, we don’t.

The first of those sentiments is summed up in a statement by Mayor John Cooper announcing a stadium deal with the Titans: “Doing nothing was not a legal option for us, and renovating the current stadium proved to be financially irresponsible.”

Cooper and other supporters point to a contract between the city and the Titans signed in 1996 that obligates the city to provide “first class” housing for the team until 2039, 17 more years. The current stadium, barely an adult in human terms, is said to have somehow sunk below that level.

Perhaps, as someone has suggested, it aged in dog years.

In a blog entry, Courtney Johnston, a council member representing District 26, succinctly spelled out the options the city is faced with: “Renovate the current stadium and remain in the current lease requiring Metro to pay for maintenance and upgrades for the next 17 years. Cost $1.75-1.95 Billion.

“Build a new domed facility. Cost $2.1 Billion.”

There’s more to it than that. Of that $2.1 billion, around one-third – $760 million – would come from Metro, through revenue bonds issued by the Metro Sports Authority. Those bonds would be financed using a 1% hotel tax and sales and use taxes from the stadium and environs. The rest would come from the Titans, the NFL, seat licenses and the state – not, we are told, Metro taxpayers.

The second sentiment is represented by a sampling of comments to a recent Tennessean article on the topic:

“Fix the roads first.”

“Why on earth are we talking about this when mothers with infants are begging for money at off ramps.”

“Public land = public goods. Build housing instead.”

You get the gist. A lot of people want to see all of Nashville’s other woes addressed before any money goes to what they consider a luxury at best.

Feel free to file their takes under “wishful thinking.” I also like “naiveté.”

My favorite comment is this one: “Is it too late to vote NO on the Titans coming here?”

Relatively longtime residents – and I’m beginning to think anyone with 25 years here should be considered a native – will remember that the city did get to vote on whether to build the current stadium, back in 1996. The turnout was 42% of the city’s 296,800 registered voters, considerably higher than for Metro general elections over the past 30 years. Everybody was energized, one way or the other.

And a whopping 59% said yes, build the stadium.

There’s been considerable change in the city since then, with tons of newcomers. As of August, there were 484,814 registered voters, an increase of more than 60% since 1996. It would be revealing to see how a stadium referendum would fare now, and whether it would generate the same level of interest.

How would you vote?

Councilwoman Johnston, in her blog post, said she would continue to listen to the stadium discussion. But she also said that “given the existing exorbitant city obligation to the stadium, the age of the current facility, and the unique opportunity to take advantage of one-time state money as well as financial support from the Titans and the hospitality industry, it will be very hard for me to vote against this proposal.”

Based partly on the fact that the new stadium would include a roof – not a dome, by the way, but a flat one – to mitigate weather extremes, supporters envision a facility that could host a broader range of events than the current one. So they employ the “Field of Dreams” argument for their position: “If you build it, they will come.” They being, in this case: Super Bowl! NCAA playoffs! WrestleMania! More!

Maybe they’re right, though I can’t say that I find WrestleMania at all persuasive. In any event, I suspect the inverse is more nearly the case: “If you don’t build it, they will leave.”

“They” being you-know-who.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.

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