The Titans Hold the Line
Last Night at the Metro Council, April 18th, 2023
Well, the Titans stadium bill survived another round. Let’s get the need-to-know out of the way: The amended stadium bill passed on second reading with 25 yeses and 11 noes. There will be a public hearing during the third and final reading of the bill, which is set for next week’s special council meeting. And Councilmember Taylor’s controversial amendment did not make the cut.
The tone was split during last night’s meeting. The crowd hoping to snag a seat in the gallery to hear the floor discussion about the stadium bill spilled out the door, half proudly in favor, half pleading for just a little more time. The council mirrored the two factions: half of the members were exhausted, weary from trying to explain the cohesion and benefits of the deal; meanwhile, the other half clung to the angst of their constituents and tried mightily to drag out the process.
As the meeting began inside the courthouse, Odessa Kelly made an appearance and called an unofficial public hearing in the hallway just outside the gallery doors. During the last meeting, the council did not approve a public hearing for the bill. So, about 26 constituents took the opportunity to say their piece in front of the small, impromptu crowd. “We initially got into this for a little less than $300 million. Twenty-five years later we still owe $60 million,” said Shannon Wood, one of the 26. “The Strunk family put twenty-five thousand dollars into this team when they bought it, now they have a $3.5 billion dollar asset. They can afford to get their own loan.”
“They’re using resources to build a stadium to get a Superbowl here. That is not okay,” Kelly told those gathered around her. “That is not how we set a precedent in this city for what matters.”
TAYLOR AMENDMENT DROPPED
Eventually, the council began their five-hour deliberation, systematically working their way through the 28 amendments filed on the bill. The “dealbreaker” amendment was, of course, Councilmember Taylor’s amendment, which passed last meeting. You may recall that it introduced a 3 percent escalating fee—which, if passed, would increase the team’s “rent fees” up to 10 percent over the coming years and earmark them for Metro’s general fund. Mike Jameson, Metro’s Director of Legislative Affairs, made it abundantly clear that the Titans would not be able to financially go forward with the deal if the council did not nullify Taylor’s amendment in favor of a more tapered amendment by Councilmember Gamble.
Gamble’s amendment caps the fee for non-NFL events to “$3.00 or 3 percent of the face value” and redirects the revenue to the Nashville Needs Impact Fund. Setting the tone for the remaining discussion, the council passed Gamble’s amendment and saved the stadium deal. Councilmember Freddie O’Connell followed up Gamble’s amendment with an amendment of his own that smoothed over some of the tension. He introduced a compromise, which redirected that revenue away from the Nashville Needs Impact Fund and into the general fund–- a sticking point for many council members. The amendment passed.
Before the vote on the amended stadium bill, Councilmember Angie Henderson attempted to defer the vote for one meeting. While her deferral failed, her later motion for a public hearing prevailed. The bill that encapsulates the largest deal of its kind in both Nashville and NFL history will be heard on third and final reading next Tuesday, April 25th–- after a four-hour public hearing, with two hours allotted for people speaking on each side of the issue. Councilmember John Rutherford said the quiet part out loud, revealing that this hearing is largely placatory and performative: “I’m not sure that it will actually move the needle in either direction, but we should give everyone a chance to be heard.”
CMs WHO SUPPORT THE DEAL FINALLY SPEAK UP
“I don’t think we’re rushing,” said Councilmember Tonya Hancock. “I had my first meeting with the director of the Sports Authority on August 8th, 2019. That’s when I first heard about the obligations we were locked into with our current lease. . . now we’re being given an opportunity to negotiate a brand new lease. . . [or] we could stay in the current hole we’re in.”
“We’ve had more information, we’ve had more community engagements, and we’ve had more time than on any of the other large projects that we’ve done,” said Councilmember Berkley Allen, before stating that the choice is really between paying a lot of taxpayer money to keep an old stadium working or letting tourists, sports fans, and visitors in the city contribute to the tax pool that helps fund city projects.
The meeting, which lasted until 1 a.m., brought out the bad, the ugly, and the cranky in many of the councilmembers. It was clear that temperatures spiked by the raw emotions stoked over the last few weeks still haven’t quite cooled. “Just the other day, we heard a legislator at the state saying that ‘they are at war.’ We are at war,” agreed Councilmember Emily Benedict. She went on quoting the unnamed, Republican legislators—presumably alluding to the leaked audio that made its rounds last week, “ ‘The left want Tennessee so bad.’ . . . what they’re talking about there [is] the left in Nashville. A progressive council; a progressive city; a city that is a blue dot in a red state.”
At one point, it sounded like Councilmember Sandra Sepulveda engaged in some ageism, OK Boomer-ing her colleagues. “I’m one of the last ones here still in their 20s,” she said, “and I just want to give you guys some perspective on buying tickets. At the end of 2021 I bought tickets. . . I paid close to $400. [And] ten dollars. . . twenty dollars. . . was not going to stop me from seeing it [a concert].”
OTHER BUSINESS The zoning bill set to redefine the term family was automatically deferred once again on third reading last night because both sponsors left the meeting before it was up on the docket. The Nashville Music, Film & Entertainment Commission bill was passed, and nominees will be selected.