Gov. Bill Lee is backing two proposals with the potential to alter Nashville’s place in the national sports landscape.
On Tuesday, Lee released his latest request to state lawmakers, asking for $500 million in bonds for the Tennessee Titans’ stadium and a $17 million grant for renovations to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
The stadium funding is contingent on its final design including a roof, which would open up the possibility of the city hosting Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours games and other major indoor events.
The Titans and Nashville officials also would need to strike a deal to finance the rest of the stadium.
The race track money involves a similar contingency. The city would need to complete its deal with Bristol Motor Speedway to update the racetrack.
Final taxpayer contribution to Titans stadium still unknown
The Titans stadium discussions come one day after the Buffalo Bills announced a $1.4 billion deal to build a new football stadium.
New York taxpayers are contributing $850 million to the project, the largest public contribution for a stadium to date, according to The Buffalo News. The state of New York is contributing $600 million and Erie County is putting in $250 million.
Tennessee Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley told Senate lawmakers in a committee meeting Tuesday that the state’s proposed contribution is based on the Buffalo and Las Vegas Allegiant Stadium deals.
Nevada taxpayers contributed $750 million toward a $2 billion stadium for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said during the meeting the potential cost of a new or upgraded Titans stadium caught many lawmakers by “surprise.”
“We understand things change,” said Watson, the Senate Finance Committee chairman. “But we could have had these discussions last year.”
If peer venues are any indication, a new stadium could cost up to $2 billion.
It’s unclear how high Nashville’s contribution to a new stadium could go. City officials have indicated long-term financing would come from private investors who would partner to shape a new neighborhood and entertainment district surrounding the stadium.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a statement he welcomes the state investment.
Metro Council members Sean Parker and Freddie O’Connell, who represent districts bordering the stadium site, said they are keeping close watch on how any final agreement would impact affordable housing, infrastructure and mobility in the East Bank area.
The county and its affiliates own 105 acres of east-bank riverfront that they plan to develop with investors willing to meet their larger vision of new neighborhoods near the stadium, upscale entertainment and nightlife surrounded by a variety of transit options.
“We’re talking about 100 acres of the most desirable real estate in the country, and I’m going to be looking to see that leveraged in a way that benefits the community more broadly than just we might get to host a Super Bowl in five years,” Parker said.
O’Connell is focused on the potential stadium agreement in the larger context of planned redevelopments on the East Bank.
“Any time you look at this, you want the aggregate picture to be better, not just for the Titans, but for the community as a whole,” O’Connell said. “So that means that the entire scenario needs to do things like produce better wages, offer affordable housing for the long term, offer better mobility options for people going to and from the site and moving in and around the site.”
Speedway deal details yet to be revealed
Cooper agreed in principle to Bristol Motor Speedway’s proposal to overhaul the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway last November. The company has had the track in its sights for two previous administrations, but as of this month, negotiations for the speedway deal are ongoing.
A financial consultant has not concluded a review of the potential deal’s financing, and an official proposal has yet to be presented to the Metro Fair Commissioners Board.
Cooper’s administration stated last March that the city would issue no more than $50 million in revenue bonds for the track renovations, but by November, that cap had risen to approximately $75 million.
State legislators passed a bill last year that allows a portion of ticket sales to be rerouted to fund improvements — something that could also play a role in financing an eventual agreement for the Titans stadium.
Sandy Mazza contributed.
Adam Friedman is The Tennessean’s state government and politics reporter. Reach him by email at email@example.com.
Reach Metro government reporter Cassandra Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.