I-Team: Sports Authority unaware its money was spent on soccer s - WSMV News 4

I-Team: Sports Authority unaware its money was spent on soccer stadium design

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Artist's rendering of the proposed soccer stadium. (WSMV) Artist's rendering of the proposed soccer stadium. (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The News4 I-Team has learned that thousands of dollars spent designing a professional soccer stadium came out of an account at the Sports Authority – but its board and staff didn’t know it until the I-Team told them. 

The I-Team discovered invoices showing that more than $84,000 was paid to Commonwealth Development Services, a firm owned by Larry Atema. Atema is a long-time friend of Metro’s Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling. 

Riebeling authorized the payments in a series of letters bearing his initials. The money was paid in six invoices and covered work beginning in the fall of 2016.  

The work was for designing and planning a Major League Soccer stadium, although the Sports Authority’s board never voted to spend the money, and its executive director didn’t know about it until the I-Team sent them copies of the invoices. 

According to the funding code, the money came from an arena revenue account. 
  
"We were not aware that money was being used from that fund," said Monica Fawknotson, executive director of the Sports Authority. 

“We were not asked,” Fawknotson said. 

We showed board member Emmett Wynn the invoices. 

“That’s the first time I’ve seen that number,” Wynn said. 

Ironically, Riebeling had just told the Sports Authority in a briefing Thursday morning that he would keep them in the loop as the proposed stadium moved through the approval process.  

"You have my commitment, you have the mayor's commitment, to keep you informed,” Riebeling told the board. 

The soccer stadium proposed for the Fairgrounds faces a number of hurdles before it can be built. 

First, Metro Council must give permission to tear down Fairgrounds buildings that stand where the stadium would go. That will require 27 votes. The soccer stadium plan also requires a vote for a zoning change, and votes to approve a bond issue. The process is expected to take at least five months.

Several Metro Council members have criticized the administration for authorizing stadium work that has not been approved by the council. 

"I really don’t like the fact that the taxpayers are being used and abused by the administration," said Councilman Steve Glover. 

This is the second fund that the I-Team found was used to pay for stadium planning work. 

The I-Team revealed last week that thousands of dollars in stadium planning work had been taken from capital improvement money that was set aside to spruce up the Fairgrounds

On Wednesday, Atema told the Fair Board the money would be “reclassified," clarifying to the I-Team that meant it would be returned. 

When Atema was asked by the I-Team who authorized him to begin planning and design work for the proposed stadium, Atema said, "I was asked to do that by the Chief Operating Officer," meaning Riebeling. 

The I-Team visited Riebeling’s office but were told he was not in, and he did not respond to our request for an interview. 

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