Racing officials, mayor meet with Gov. Lee to discuss fairgrounds, asks for funding

Racing officials are excited about MLS and NASCAR at fairgrounds
Posted at 4:05 PM, Feb 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-11 23:37:27-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville Mayor John Cooper and racing officials met with Governor Bill Lee to discuss the future of The Fairgrounds Nashville.

Mayor Cooper talked to the governor about the city’s big vision for the fairgrounds, which includes both racing and soccer. He's hoping the state will contribute funding to bring the racing part of that vision to fruition.

"The city of Nashville is putting in a ton of it’s own money; so I don’t feel badly about ever showing up and asking the state for participation. Between the revenue bonds and the land and the GO bonds and the building expo, we’re well over $300 million from the city’s perspective," said Mayor Cooper.

To clarify, $225 million is made up of bonds the city received for Nashville Soccer Holdings, which the city and taxpayers will not be responsible for, since it will be paid back in full.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said in a statement prior to the meeting they are excited about the future auto racing and Major League Soccer at Nashville Fairgrounds.

"We became even more excited about that future when Nashville was awarded an MLS franchise and committed to build a new soccer stadium," Caldwell said. "It is within the city's reach to have a thriving multi-use sports and entertainment complex to create a true landmark for the city."

As Mayor Cooper left Tuesday's meeting, there was no definitive answer from the governor's office. Mayor Cooper told NewsChannel 5 there would not be "an affirmative announcement today."

"I don't really have much to report. There's nothing affirmative," said Cooper. "It's a lot for the state to consider right now. It's just too much for the state to consider. It's a good idea and, you know, the job of a salesman is never easy."

Cooper went on to explain that Metro is looking for deals that contribute to the future of Nashville.

"It's significant money. It's small compared to our baseball stadium, small compared to other sports facilities, but we need super good deals for the city and we need great future for all the uses this is what long running conversations look like and one day, one way or another we're gonna have good answers, he said."

The speedway is at the center of one of the two deals, Mayor Cooper is trying to make happen.

On Tuesday morning, the Nashville Fairgrounds Board voted to write a letter urging Mayor Cooper to begin demolition on the soccer stadium.

Per Metro Nashville's charter, the city must maintain the Tennessee State Fair, flea market, expo center events and the speedway. The flea market successfully moved to its new location at the fairgrounds last fall.

Read Caldwell's full statement below:

"We've presented the city – Mayor Cooper and the Fair Board – with a plan to restore the historic speedway and give it an economically viable future. In meetings with Mayor Cooper, his team and other city officials during the past several weeks, we've been asked to evaluate different operating scenarios and have provided information to the city as requested. We've done everything we have been asked to do and have met with everyone we have been asked to meet with. We will continue to provide any assistance necessary as the city considers what’s best for the future of the Fairgrounds.

Because the Fair Board has a Metro Charter-obligation to maintain the speedway, we have been and continue to be optimistic that the commissioners and the mayor will be supportive of a partnership with BMS to modernize and financially sustain the speedway.

Our team has long believed in the future of the historic speedway and the Fairgrounds. We became even more excited about that future when Nashville was awarded an MLS franchise and committed to build a new soccer stadium. It is within the city's reach to have a thriving multi-use sports and entertainment complex to create a true landmark for the city."

This comes after a week of closed-door meetings between the Mayor’s Office and Nashville SC.

The city was awarded an MLS franchise in 2017. The final stadium deal was set in 2018. As part of the agreement with MLS, Nashville must build a stadium for the team in order to keep the franchise.

Demolition of the old fairgrounds facilities was set to begin in October, but have since been delayed.

Over the weekend, Mayor Cooper wrote an op-ed in The Tennessean saying in part, "I’m honoring Metro’s commitment to build a stadium. Now, we need a financially sustainable path forward for soccer that enhances and preserves the historical uses of the fairgrounds."

Within a day of the publication, Nashville SC launched a website and social media campaign called Build The Stadium which encouraged the public to sign a petition to move forward with the stadium build.

Read More:

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100 days into a delay, Nashville officials staying quiet on MLS stadium plans

MLS stadium construction put on hold, delayed at least 7 weeks

Demolition for MLS stadium at Fairgrounds Nashville delayed