Gushing Oil 

When it rains...

Mayor Phil Bredesen’s initial request to Metro Council for the Houston Oilers’ relocation in Nashville seems certain of victory. Some Council members might have been set to defer the measure for a week, but even that delay would not prevent Bredesen’s inevitable success.

Clearly, with preliminary funding secure, the victor in the short run appears to be the guy who negotiated much of the deal—the mayor himself. As Bredesen told The Tennessean in a recent interview, dealing with this sort of stuff is his “forte.”

His success was assured by the fact that he managed to convince the public that, for the most part, the construction of an Oilers-quality stadium will be financed through user fees—private seat licenses, increased sales tax revenues, etc. Had Bredesen been forced to increase the property tax, for instance, plenty of education boosters, neighborhood zealots and people living in flood plains would have screamed long and hard that their tax dollars could be spent in far more important ways.

Despite the general euphoria over the prospect of pro football in Nashville, some critics are continuing to raise questions. Metro Council member Stewart Clifton, for example, insists that the vast majority of the people in his district would prefer that the Metro money budgeted for the Oilers be spent on other civic priorities. “They believe it is an inappropriate use of public money,” Clifton says.

While Clifton’s arguments—for instance, that bond money, hotel-motel money and water money would be better spent in financing a new school desegregation plan or some other civic enterprise—are worthy of debate, he will very likely be drowned out by the pep-rally zeal now consuming the city. Like the professor calling for more research money for the physics lab, Clifton can only watch helplessly as the jocks rampage across the Cumberland River, with fans applauding them all the way.

Certainly the Oilers are about more than mere athletics. Getting pro sports here is about night life and entertainment, civic spirit and economic development. It is about doing something with the city’s east bank, and saving the Shelby Street Bridge as a pedestrian corridor. The initial investment surely takes away money that would have gone elsewhere, but the community seems to accept that fact and feel pretty good about the long-term collateral benefits of the investment.

Over the long haul, the next big hurdle for the Oilers venture will be the actual bond issuance, which is necessary to finance so much of the deal. If there is some local opposition to the measure, there is certainly more opposition to it statewide.

In this sense, the person who has taken most of the political risks in helping the Oilers come here is Gov. Don Sundquist, whose assistance to the deal, despite early reports to the contrary, turns out to be significant in the final analysis.

People who live beyond a 100-mile radius of Nashville have little reason to want any state money to go into the deal, while people in Memphis are actively opposed to the state’s investment in the project. Memphis has tried to get its own pro football team before. Memphis is also Don Sundquist’s hometown.

The Oilers deal, in its totality, looks like good business at this point.

Our recommendation, if it were a stock: BUY A LOT.

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