Nashville SC and Mayor John Cooper have reached an agreement to build an MLS Soccer stadium. MLS Commissioner Don Garber is also confident for the stadium to be ready by 2022.

Nancy Amons' raw interview with Mayor John Cooper on the stadium agreement at the Nashville Fairgrounds

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Soccer fans in Nashville celebrated Thursday night after hearing the hold on construction of the team’s new stadium has been lifted.

Mayor John Cooper is allowing demolition to go forward at the fairgrounds  to make way for stadium.

Team owner John Ingram told News 4’s Nancy Amons he is relieved.

Ingram agreed to a concession that would create more space between the private development he plans to build at the fairgrounds and the existing racetrack.

"It was important to the mayor that we have green space  so we’re going to do our best to work that in,"  Ingram said.

The negotiations took a toll.

Ian Ayre, CEO of the team, said  ticket sales suffered.

"It’s been a disruptive process and to much degree an unnecessary process, it's good to look forward," Ayre told Amons.

"We took a little side trip but we’re back on track," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

Amons asked Garber if he’s concerned that there is still a pending lawsuit by the group “Save Our Fairgrounds.”

"We’re confident we’ll get through it and confident we’ll get in that stadium in 2022," Garber said.

Ayre echoed the opinion.

"We have very good lawyers who have a very good opinion. It feels for me,, personally, kind of like background noise at the moment," Ayre said.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayer and team owner John Ingram talk about the agreement reached with Mayor Cooper to build an MLS Stadium. 

Mayor Cooper and Ingram announced Thursday morning they have reached agreement on an amendment to the future soccer stadium to be built at The Fairgrounds Nashville.

According to a joint press release, the team has agreed to fund 100% of stadium construction with private dollars through cash investment, stadium lease payments and revenues generated at the stadium by attendees of events.

The parties have agreed to a statement of principles, including open space between the soccer stadium and the historic speedway.

“Today is an exciting step forward for sports in Nashville,” Cooper said in a news release. “We’ve reached an agreement and I expect work to start on the soccer stadium project in a matter of days.”

The revised deal eliminates taxpayer and budget burden for stadium construction while keeping in place the first Community Benefits Agreement in Tennessee.

“We are very happy to be moving forward with the stadium construction,” said Ingram in a news release. “The investment we are making is not just for our soccer team, it is an investment in the future of Nashville and the Fairgrounds.”

“I’m so glad we’ve reached a better deal for Nashville. I’m grateful to Nashville Soccer Holdings and John Ingram for understanding our city’s financial realities and agreeing to pay up to $54 million in additional costs,” said Cooper in a news release. “This deal saves the taxpayers money and provides a better site plan for the Fairgrounds. Today is an exciting step forward for sports in Nashville and I’m ready for the first Nashville SC game on Feb. 29.”

The revised stadium deal consists of the following elements:

  • The team will pay for infrastructure in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, estimated to be $19 million.
  • The team will assume Metro’s obligation to pay up to $35 million toward lease payments.
  • The team has agreed to a general statement of principles for parcel 8C in the 10-acre mixed-use development to account for an open plaza that can serve the operational needs of multiple Fairgrounds uses.
  • Metro has authorized initiation of the demolition contract and will proceed with the demolition process immediately.

A spokesperson for The Fairgrounds Nashville told News4 this morning that the original demolition contract had expired. To address that expiration, and prevent delay in the project, Mayor Cooper is signing a new agreement under the same terms with the contractor that had been previously engaged for demolition.

With that signing, demolition is expected to commence very soon.

Jim Roberts, the attorney for the group Save Our Fairgrounds, said he is disappointed in the settlement and believes that developing the fairgrounds violates state law. He represents the nonprofit group that has sued to keep the fairgrounds intact.

“I’m sorry Mayor Cooper did not fight this to the end. The city will lose a treasure," said Roberts.

Roberts said he will continue with the lawsuit and now may file an injunction. Roberts said he believes redevelopment of the fairgrounds requires a public vote.

The fair board said in a statement:

"We think Mayor Cooper has arrived at a successful deal for all parties and are glad to have a decision on the future of Fairgrounds Nashville. As always, we take our stewardship seriously and look forward to providing diverse recreational opportunities for Nashvillians, be they racing, soccer or flea market fans.”

Full statement from Mayor John Cooper:

“Today is an exciting step forward for sports in Nashville. We’ve reached an agreement and I expect work to start on the soccer stadium project in a matter of days.

“When I came into office, I inherited an incomplete deal that was not fully funded and did not provide for the success of all the uses of our historic Fairgrounds. I could not, in good faith, obligate taxpayers to more money or uncertainty around potential litigation. This deal lives up to our commitments to soccer, the Metro Charter, the other uses of the Fairgrounds, and my commitment to put taxpayers first in negotiations.

“I’m grateful to Nashville Soccer Holdings and John Ingram for understanding our city’s financial realities and for partnering on a better solution for our city.

“Major League Soccer will be a great entertainment and economic asset to our city. I believe this is the best available implementation of the commitment Metro Council made to professional soccer.

“We accomplished three things by taking a closer look at the soccer deal.

  1. We eliminated financial risk to taxpayers by removing the rent guarantee on the stadium. That is a savings worth up to $35 million over the next decade.
  2. The soccer ownership group agreed to pay for infrastructure work that would have cost taxpayers at least $19 million.
  3. And finally, in addition to saving $54 million, the result is a more unified, successful Fairgrounds, by providing open space between the soccer stadium and the historic speedway.

“This agreement allows for a better site plan, providing great civic space that connects the stadium, historic speedway, state fair and exhibition halls, and it will bring up to $650 million of investment to the Fairgrounds. I’m proud to say that the Community Benefits Agreement has been preserved and confirmed by language included in this new arrangement. I’m also excited by Speedway Motorsports’ desire to partner in bringing NASCAR back to Nashville, and I will work to try to make that happen.

“I’m ready for the first Nashville SC game on February 29th, and I am excited to move forward with the rest of my policy agenda to create a city that works for everyone.”

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