Speedway Rendering Perkins Eastman

Metro’s fair commissioners got the details of a long-awaited deal between the mayor's office and Speedway Motorsports Inc., a national racetrack operator based in North Carolina, at the body’s Nov. 8 meeting. 

Details lay out a $119 million track redesign, the vast majority of which will come from the city, which will issue debt through the Metro Sports Authority. If the track can’t generate enough tax revenue to cover these bond payments, the city will pay out of the general fund, a situation deemed likely by a study included with Tuesday's materials. The state and the Nashville Visitors & Convention Corp have committed $17 million each. The city will receive $1.65 million in annual rent — $1 million from SMI and $650,000 from NCVC, which will reserve 20 days a year for events. Former board commissioner Jason Bergeron presented community concerns, which include noise, event schedules and flaws in the deal's financial model.

Despite being the product of years of negotiations — a point emphasized by Ben Eagles, who represented the mayor’s office, and Butch Spyridon of the NCVC — little fanfare was made about the announcement. The mayor's office did not issue a press release, and the announcement was listed as “Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) Update: October meeting follow-up” under “Old Business.” The financing structure leaves the city’s general fund exposed to significant liability, a potential political vulnerability for a mayor whose central selling point for a new Titans stadium has been distancing the general fund from financial obligations. The combined debt issuance, which could push $900 million with current interest rates, will go through the Metro Sports Authority. 

Metro Legal’s Tom Cross also addressed the body, appearing to reference the council’s skepticism of the Titans deal, which is playing out in parallel. “You will not be rushed,” said Cross. “We’re not giving you documents today and asking you to vote on them next meeting.” 

“This has been a long time coming — about a year-and-half or more of work has gone into this day," Eagles told commissioners on Tuesday afternoon. Eagles presented a slideshow that included financing information and a quote from Mayor Cooper emphasizing the city’s “legendary speedway.” Nashville’s fairgrounds have hosted racing since 1891, and in 2011, a referendum passed 2-to-1 creating a charter obligation for the city to continue to host racing events. Though it doesn’t necessarily require a $119 million overhaul for NASCAR events, this referendum looms large for Cooper, who cited the city’s “obligation to maintain the track” in his praise of the deal. Fair commissioners will now review the documents, referred later as “draft contracts” by SMI president Jerry Caldwell.

Before addressing the room on behalf of the Neighborhood Impact Advisory Committee, a body set up by the board to field community concerns, former commissioner Jason Bergeron can be seen just behind the speaker’s podium looking askance. “It’s been over three years of talks happening mostly behind closed doors,” said Bergeron. “Finally the fair board is getting some details about this proposal to build an all-new speedway on top of what the old speedway was.” 

Bergeron pointed out financial flaws in a deal that, he argued, was highly favorable to SMI, which plans to contract through limited liability subsidiary Bristol Motorspeedway. “Financial protections are community impact protections,” said Bergeron. “SMI has to guarantee the full revenue bond debt.” Bergeron presented a community memo, which pushed back against an SMI-commissioned sound study and reflected the sense of powerlessness felt by neighbors in South Nashville, Wedgewood-Houston and Berry Hill.

In explaining NCVC’s interest in a rebuilt racetrack, Spyridon cited a shortage of sufficient event space in the city and venues like neighboring Geodis Park that are booked a year in advance. “This city has a huge void in available events space,” said Spyridon. “We’re fortunate, we’re blessed that we have those opportunities. The demand is there.” He said talks to bring NASCAR back to Nashville had been ongoing with SMI for six years.

All supporting documents can be found on Metro’s Fair Commissioners Board page.

Like what you read?

Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!