Metro Fair Board member Jason Bergeron announced his resignation Tuesday, becoming the second member of the board to step down since early February.
Bergeron said his decision — which was effective immediately — stems from “professional obligations.”
He has been a vocal critic in ongoing discussions surrounding a potential deal with Bristol Motor Speedway to renovate the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, pushing for communities surrounding the fairgrounds to have a “seat at the table” in these deliberations. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods have voiced discontent with the deal, citing concerns of worsening disruptive noise and traffic.
In his final address to the Fair Board Tuesday, Bergeron implored his fellow commissioners to hold SMI “to the same standards we held Nashville SC to” in negotiations, specifically regarding community benefits and guarantees that Metro won’t be left with the bill should projected revenues intended to finance the project prove insufficient.
“As we sit here at this present moment, the proposal for the new speedway facility is again mired in delays, and for very good reason,” Bergeron said. “The present structure of that proposal is grossly financially irresponsible, creating a black box of a facility that needs to feed itself with non-guaranteed revenue, and revenue that itself is based on highly questionable revenue projections. This proposal would isolate the speedway as an island from the rest of the campus, damaging the fairgrounds budget in the process.”
Mayor John Cooper entered into a principle agreement with BMS’s parent company Speedway Motorsports to bring NASCAR Cup Series racing back to the track last December, but the details of the proposed contract are yet to be released. The city estimated in December it would issue around $75 million in revenue bonds for the track’s renovations, should the deal proceed.
The deal is undergoing independent financial analysis, and was not yet ready to be presented to the Fair Commissioners Board as of Tuesday, Fairgrounds Nashville Executive Director Laura Womack said.
Bergeron said the proposal also lacks “concrete community protections and accountability” and contains “loopholes” that may allow more racing and track rentals than allowed under previous contracts. Bristol Motor Speedway’s community benefits commitments are too vague, he said, continuing to push for measurable goals.
He urged remaining commissioners to lean on the Neighborhood Impact Advisory Committee and encourage and consider feedback from neighborhoods surrounding the fairgrounds, where fairgrounds decisions have an “outsized impact.” So far, he said, these vital voices have been stifled.
“In bringing some balance and putting the surrounding neighborhoods at the table we are just equalizing the playing field, where racing interests have always had a place at the table,” he said.
Bergeron, a five-year member of the board appointed by former Mayor Megan Barry, was the last commissioner on the board not appointed by Cooper. He served as the board’s chair briefly before being replaced by Commissioner Sheri Weiner in January.
Bergeron’s term was set to expire April 6.
Former board member Caleb Hemmer stepped down from his role in February to focus on his bid to represent the 59th House District in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Bergeron told The Tennessean he is not planning to run for political office, but plans to continue to “stay engaged on the troubled new speedway proposal and advocate for actual public engagement and community input in the process.”
“You have offered an important voice to the process,” Weiner said to Bergeron Tuesday. “You have embraced difficult subjects and you have presented them with candor, and there’s a lot to be said for that, and your voice is going to be missed on this fair board.”
She also responded to reports from Bergeron and recently-appointed Commissioner Jasper Hendricks III of intimidation.
“As to anybody that intimidates or threatens a member of this fair board, it goes without saying that it will backfire,” Weiner said.
Fair Board once again has 2 empty seats
Bergeron’s resignation leaves the Fair Board with two freshly empty seats.
In December, Cooper promised to wait to present the plan to the board until two contentious open seats were filled. One of those seats sat empty for nearly a year as council members pushed for Hispanic representation on the board to reflect the growing Hispanic population south of the fairgrounds.
Cooper initially nominated a white man for the position, but then chose a Black candidate instead amid efforts to increase board diversity. Cooper’s second choice missed the nomination deadline, passing the responsibility to Vice Mayor Jim Shulman.
Shulman put forth two Black female nominees, both of whom were denied by the Metro Council.
After another seat opened up late last year, Cooper and Shulman made joint nominations in early January, and Metro Council unanimously approved the appointments of Mario Avila and Jasper Hendricks III on Jan. 4.
In a letter to Cooper on Tuesday, Bergeron encouraged the mayor to appoint a resident of District 17 to his empty seat.
Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at email@example.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.