Metro Council member: Executives concerned over Mayor's handling of new development

Posted at 5:55 PM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-04 18:24:34-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville is a town that is booming, with new companies bringing their business to the city, but according to a Metro Council member, some company executives are weary of bringing new business to Nashville due to the mayor's involvement in development decisions.

While there's plenty of construction in Nashville, some construction has been put on hold due to the mayor reevaluating projects, such as the Major League Soccer stadium at The Fairgrounds.

On Monday, it was revealed that the mayor was evaluating an issue he saw with signage at the Nashville Yards project, which reportedly put part of the project on hold.

NewsChannel 5's Jesse Knutson spoke to council member Freddie O'Connell, who represents the district where much of downtown, including Nashville Yards, is located, about the mayor's decision to put certain projects on hold that had previously been approved, and how it's impacting future development.

"Has there been any developer or any group that has come to you that has wanted to do more development in Nashville that has specifically been concerned with the mayor?" Knutson asked of O'Connell.

“Absolutely. Absolutely," O'Connell responded. "They are hearing about issues like this sign package (at Nashville Yards) and sort of saying, what’s the deal here?”

According to the Mayor's Office, Cooper expressed concerns regarding both the size and aesthetics of the proposed signage, as well as the potential impact they might have on the surrounding area, which O'Connell, as the council member representing downtown, found odd.

“This is beyond the level of detail that I usually get involved in," O'Connell said, acting as the council member that represents the area dealing with the most development.

The Mayor's Office sent NewsChannel 5 a statement reading: "Regarding Nashville Yards, Mayor Cooper initially expressed concerns regarding both the size and aesthetics of the proposed signage, as well as the potential impact they might have on the surrounding area. We have since met with Metro Planning, and there is a process in place to review the proposed signage."

The statement continued, "Mayor Cooper, as did his predecessors, is in discussion with all departments, such as Police, Fire, Health, and Planning, on behalf of the citizens of Nashville and Davidson County. It is entirely appropriate for a mayor to inquire about quality of life issues affecting Nashville residents."

O'Connell said regardless of the specific reasons, he's afraid it could push away future growth.

“The next headline I really would be anxious about seeing is: 'Oracle declares that they are not gonna create a large campus in Nashville,'” O'Connell said, citing the meetings that were reported between the Cooper administration and Microsoft that did not result in new Microsoft jobs in Nashville.

Attracting companies and new offices is tough business no matter where you are in the country, as there are bids coming in from all types of cities with different incentive packages.

Andy Borchers, Associate Dean of Business at Lipscomb University said you need to create an atmosphere that is as appealing as possible when courting these companies.

“When companies look at a city to locate in, the stability in the city government is one factor of many that they’re gonna want to look at," Borchers explained. "If they get a sense that they’re going to get shifting sands about what the deal will be, that could be of concern.”

When it comes to the soccer stadium, which first brought up questions of the mayor's involvement in development, O'Connell said he simply doesn't know where the mayor stands on the issue, which is an issue for him as a council member who doesn't have answers for his constituents.

O'Connell said that moving forward, he hopes the mayor can be more transparent about his agenda on these projects, progress that is being made, and what exactly he's trying to accomplish when reviewing these deals.

“I think that’s where we have to advance the conversation to, and based on the exchanges, it’s really hard to tell right now if the mayor is in fact committed to getting the best deal possible, or if this is all part of a process of trying to get the team to walk away. I can’t tell.”

In regards to the MLS stadium, the Mayor's Office released the following statement Monday evening.

"Mayor Cooper has not approved demolition. He looks forward to continuing to negotiate on behalf of Nashville taxpayers and the future of the mixed-use space at the historic Fairgrounds."

Nashville SC and Major League Soccer called for Mayor Cooper to sign a demolition contract over the weekend so demolition could begin on Monday, but that was not done.

Nashville SC and Major League Soccer have set Thursday as a deadline for when they want a deal to be reached.