Earlier this month, when the financing details for the proposed new Nashville Sounds ballpark at Sulphur Dell were first unveiled, Mayor Karl Dean explained to reporters why the project needed to move so quickly.
"There's really three reasons," Dean said. "One would be that it's important for us to move forward while interest rates are low. We don't want to delay and have the opportunity for interest rates to go back up. We also have one of the private parties involved needs to get this deal completed by the end of the year. This is a private party, Embrey, who had been involved in this project of building over there before we just moved forward with the ballpark project. And it's important for us to move forward because we'd like to get the stadium open for the Sounds season in 2015.
For this week's dead-tree issue of the Scene — on stands tomorrow, one day early, due to the Thanksgiving holiday — we spoke with Sounds owner Frank Ward, who has another reason the deal needs to get done fast.
An excerpt, after the jump:
Among the revenue sources the Dean administration plans to put toward the $65 million in debt — from purchasing the land and building the stadium — is $750,000 in projected annual property tax. This would come from a $50 million development the Sounds hope to build along Third Avenue. The team has signaled its intent to follow through with those plans, but it has no contractual obligation to do so.
Sounds owner Frank Ward tells the Scene he has an option to buy the land for that development for $5 million by Dec. 31. If the stadium deal isn't approved by that date, however, he won't make the purchase.
"So there's a timing issue there," he says. "Would I buy the land without a stadium being there? No."
Ward says he's already extended the contract twice. Administration officials say they're confident he will proceed with the private development, citing (frequently) his background in real estate. But Ward insists that keeping the project on track affects all the parties involved.
"There are a lot of balls in the air, and to all of a sudden let's call timeout, I think, would have drastic effects on everything that's trying to be accomplished," he says.
Asked about concerns that the public might not have time to weigh in on the project, Ward balks.
"I prefer to stay out of the politics," he says.
Of course, if you spend years working with the mayor's office to devise a new stadium deal, and insist that the deal be approved quickly by elected officials, aren't you already in the politics?
"To tell you the truth, I don't know," Ward says, with a laugh. "Am I in it intentionally? To be honest with you, no, I am not."
Dean administration officials have repeatedly insisted that, even if the Sounds don't go through with their development, someone will. The land will be so valuable, they say, that there will be no shortage of suitors. If that's true, a delay in the stadium approval that prevented Ward from pulling the trigger could mean he loses the land.
Now Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors has called special meeting of the council for Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m., for the purpose of considering the ballpark deal on third and final reading. That would shorten the schedule — and, likely, move up approval — by one week.
If all goes as planned, a deal that puts $65 million on the city's credit card will be approved in less than 30 days.
Look for more in tomorrow's issue.