One Big Flop 

Why the Adams deal went nowhere

Why the Adams deal went nowhere

Bud Adams’ bid to buy the thermal property and request that the proceeds go toward plugging the shortfall in Metro’s education budget failed on two counts—as a business deal and as a publicity stunt. Nobody in Metro thinks that Adams’ proposal is ever going to happen. Even worse, many suspect that Adams made the offer as a way to tweak Mayor Bill Purcell, with whom he has feuded for several years, in the papers and in court, over the terms of the Titans deal.

“It was hard to hear the offer, particularly in the way it was presented, without suspecting that it was intended to rib the mayor,” says first-term Metro Council member Mike Jameson. “The general impression I get from my colleagues is that they are viewing this with some suspicion.”

Rookie Metro Council member Chris Whitson, one of the more pro-business members of the city’s legislative body, says that while Adams’ offer might at least prompt public debate about what to do with the thermal property, which is now being considered as the site for a new Sounds ballpark, he can’t take it at face value. “It’s hard to put myself in Adams’ shoes, but if I was guessing I would think it was a twofer—he’d end up with a prime piece of property at a discounted price, and if it didn’t work out it would be a way to have some fun with the mayor.”

Even the mayor’s office acknowledges that Adams’ offer has drawn skepticism. “I think there are a lot of people who have publicly questioned what the full intentions of the offer are, and part of our exercise of our lawyers talking to his lawyers are what the parameters of the offer are,” Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips says. “There is an obvious area of suspicion among people, including some members of the council.”

When Adams first faxed the mayor his letter outlining his offer, he generated a one-day publicity storm. The Tennessean, in particular, saluted Adams’ gesture, especially his stipulation that proceeds of the sale go to help Metro public schools. The paper quoted a number of school board members and Metro public officials who heralded the offer as virtually selfless and philanthropic.

Meanwhile, the mayor, who’d recently made the controversial request that the schools trim their budget, was caught in an awkward position between having to choose between using the land to fund education or using it to make way for a ballpark. One way, he makes Adams look like the hero. The other way, Purcell looks like just another mayor who puts sports above schools.

But the Purcell administration smartly waited out Adams’ apparent public relations initiative. Gradually, the tide turned. Both conservative talk jock Steve Gill and the liberal Tennessean editorial board questioned Adams’ motives. The daily paper also received letters to the editor ridiculing the Titans owner. Now, one week after the fact, nobody is talking about it except to deride it as a hopelessly transparent media stunt. Metro officials actually laugh when asked whether they think something will actually come out of it.

Perhaps people in Nashville are savvier than The Tennessean initially realized. Last year, Metro spent $10.8 million paying back the bonds that helped build Bud Adams’ stadium and nearly another million on assorted capital expenses. Soon, the city is also expected to be on the hook to pay for a new $250,000 scoreboard for the facility. This kind of stuff is public knowledge. So when Adams pens a letter saying that he shares a “profound concern for the education of the children in Nashville,” Metro officials and voters have difficulty taking him seriously. His team’s NFL palace is one of the reasons why the city is facing a tight budget in the first place.

Then there’s the issue of Adams’ offer amount. Four years ago, the property, which sits along the Cumberland River, was appraised at $9 million. And that was before the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge was done and the groundbreaking of the new symphony hall. The land is much more valuable now. As Steve Gill summed up the situation, Adams lowballed Metro, then tried to dictate how the city should spend the money.

Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips insists the administration is not dismissing Adams’ offer out of hand. “Our response is not a token kiss-off,” he says. But even if it was, it’s not like there would be any outcry. Since the Titans have arrived in Nashville, the team has thrived, playing before packed, raucous crowds, while making the playoffs an annual destination. But Nashville has never really taken to Adams. And if the response to his offer last week is any indication, that won’t be changing anytime soon.


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