Again and again, Nashville has been promised by its mayors that they will make The Fairgrounds Nashville a successful place for all, including supporters of the historic racetrack. Despite the pats on the head that fairgrounds supporters have received from past mayors, no real progress has been made.
It appears to me that Mayor John Cooper is focused on ensuring Nashville comes out the winner with an improved fairgrounds where fans can enjoy both racing and soccer.
I am glad to see that the groups involved are working toward the same goal. Nashville elected Cooper to stabilize our finances and manage the massive debt we’ve accumulated ($4.55 billion in total outstanding general obligation debt). You can’t do that without looking closely at every major project.
I think we’re almost there with the Major League Soccer deal — kudos to the parties involved in what has been a difficult process. The Ingram and Turner families are honorable people. Nashville wouldn’t be the same without their support and contributions, and I know the city is grateful for their support through the generations. Imagine Nashville without the Nashville Symphony or the Gulch — we simply wouldn’t be the same. And those are just two of myriad events and projects that the Ingrams and Turners have spearheaded for Nashville. At the end of the day, John Ingram simply wants a deal that yields the best for both the MLS franchise and for the city. I am sure Cooper wants the same.
The practical problems with the MLS stadium project are nothing new. The MLS plan was designed at a time when the Fairgrounds Speedway was, at best, an afterthought for most of Nashville. It’s clear that the speedway wasn’t a primary consideration when the stadium’s renderings and maps put the structure a mere 20 feet from the main entrance to the speedway. That’s the length of a standard two-car garage! That’s not nearly enough room to get the crowds attending a soccer match or stock-car race through quickly and safely. Imagine trying to squeeze 30,000 people through an area that’s just wide enough for one car to park in lengthwise. It’s impossible. If there were an emergency situation or a necessary evacuation, the public’s safety would be clearly in jeopardy. I don’t even think city codes would allow such a situation to occur.
We’ve read that Mayor Cooper is currently within his mayoral rights to delay construction of the stadium until these issues are addressed. He must also plan for the anticipated cost overruns and the necessary infrastructure improvements to the miles-long highways and interstate exchanges that will be funneling thousands of people to the fairgrounds. From what we all understand, the groups have agreed on the majority of the funds necessary to cover the likely cost overruns for the site itself. But packing 30,000 people into that area will create a nightmare traffic situation. The I-65 Wedgewood exit wasn’t built to handle an influx of so many people, all arriving at the same event at the same time, whether it’s an MLS game or a NASCAR race. Mayor Cooper is right to be concerned about the infrastructure improvements necessary to handle such large crowds, no matter which road is used for the influx.
The Fairgrounds Speedway is the oldest short track still in operation in the entire country. Its role in developing the legendary drivers of NASCAR is undisputed. It deserves the chance to succeed that has been promised so many times. I’m glad to see that Speedway Motorsports shares the same opinion and is doing everything in its power to help it succeed. That group would be a fine partner for Metro in restoring the luster to the Fairgrounds Speedway.
There is enormous untapped potential with the speedway if NASCAR returns. It should rival — if not exceed — the anticipated economic impact that MLS is projecting. Adding racing revenues, along with the money that will flow into Metro’s coffers from MLS, will mean nothing but good for Nashville. It will be good for each sport and their fans, but the biggest winner will be Nashville.
I am glad to see progress being made toward a plan that works for both sports. It will be a challenge to ensure that two major professional sporting venues work cooperatively on such a relatively small footprint, but Cooper and the groups involved are working toward that very goal.
It is a challenge, but one that is certainly accomplishable. “Cooperation” isn’t a dirty word.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.