While a Metro task force overwhelmingly recommended building a riverfront ballpark for the Nashville Sounds last week, neither Mayor Bill Purcell nor the Metro Council is tripping over themselves to make the plan happen. They're operating on government standard time. And that's making the team's general manager, Glenn Yaeger, impatient.
"This is getting frustrating," he says. "Not many businesses or people would have been this patient. We certainly have."
In 1997, Chicago businessman Al Gordon bought the minor league baseball team and, soon after, began pushing for a new park to replace the aging Greer Stadium. Last year, Yaeger finalized an innovative proposal that called for a new 11,000-seat baseball stadium on the old Thermal site and a pair of residential apartment buildings or condos along the left field side. The city would back nearly $40 million in bonds to pay for the stadiumwhile the annual revenue stemming from the project would pay back the bonds.
Purcell and Yaeger seemed to be inching closer to a deal until the council decided to step in earlier this year. They appointed a task force to examine the Sounds' plan, along with other proposals from developers on how best to use that site. The mayor then suspended negotiations with the Sounds. Finally, last week, the task force brought it all back full-circle when it voted 15-1 to recommend the Sounds deal. All of this would seem to be good news, except there is no urgency on the part of the mayor or the council to take the task force's recommendation and run with it. In two weeks, the task force will present its report to the council. Then the mayor will resume negotiations with the Sounds. Soon it will be Christmas. Meanwhile, the project's developer could walk away at any time, taking the city back to square one.
"There are several factors that are causing me alarm," Yaeger says. "If we came to some resolution on this proposal six months ago, it would be more feasible because interest rates were lower."
He adds, "The second thing that concerns me is how long I can keep a developer of the caliber of Bill Struever interested in the project when there doesn't seem to be a clear path to get this project done. He's ready to deploy his capital and invest in this project, but he has other opportunities that he will pursue if we don't get moving. "
The mayor's office isn't on Glenn Yaeger standard time, though. "The only people who seem to have a set deadline in mind are the Sounds," says Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips. "We're not going to put the taxpayers at risk in order to meet someone's deadline."
Phillips says that the mayor needs the Sounds to find a third-party guarantor to assure that if the team or the project itself can't pay back the debt service, the city won't be on the hook. "At this point in time, we're supporting as much as we can legitimately support," Phillips says. "If it had been a different time and there wasn't a stadium and a GEC, it might have been different, but today, on Aug. 3, our need is the third-party guarantor."
Metro Council member Rip Ryman, a former lobbyist for the Sounds, says that his colleagues will likely support the team's proposalif it has the mayor's backing. Either way, though, he says, it's time for someone to do something.
"The council's getting a little antsy about it," he says. "I know I am."
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