Are You Ready for Some Football?

December 20, 2022

We have a Metro Council meeting tonight. You can review proposed amendments and analysis of the agenda. There is a public comment period.

Tonight, the mayor has asked us to vote on a term sheet “framework” that would, presumably, let a bunch of lawyers continue negotiating an actual deal with the Titans that would include a record-setting public subsidy for a new football stadium.

Almost 5 years ago, then Council member Cooper asked us to support an amendment to the language that was to go before voters for dedicated funding for transit. He wanted increased transparency about present day costs versus costs over a 15-year period of revenue requirements. Even as a supporter of dedicated funding, I supported his amendment.

It’s very, very difficult for me to imagine Council member Cooper presenting the deal he has as mayor or voting for it as he has presented it based on that experience.

I understand wanting us all to understand how bad the existing lease is. I agree: it’s bad.

The way the two words “first class” became a lurking time bomb worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars gives us all a painful lesson in the importance of long-term thinking in terms of risk.

And I remain excited to renegotiate the bad lease with a first-class partner in the Titans. My engagement with the Titans has been straightforward and pleasant throughout.

For tonight, though, I’m concerned about opportunity cost linked to the parts of a term sheet “framework” the mayor is proposing that leave me with enough questions that I’m not yet convinced the new stadium terms are fundamentally better than the liability we’re trying to leave behind.

For starters, we’ve accepted from the outset the premise that we are currently liable for $1.8b. I find this to be a difficult negotiating position given what we’ve learned about other recent renovations. It might not be a thing anyone would prefer to do, but when we go to put taxpayer dollars on the line, that’s not the fundamental question in front of us.

Regardless, we’re being asked to consider this as a proposal for a $2.2b stadium.

But just like the mayor’s concerns about the transit referendum, that’s not actually what this is.

Sure, it’s a $2.2b stadium in terms of present day construction costs. And then it’s hundreds of millions of dollars of public money going to future upkeep of that stadium, which will already have a record-setting $1.3b of public money committed to its initial construction. And it’s also hundreds of millions more of infrastructure costs that it’s very difficult for me to see not putting some amount of pressure on our general fund through general obligation bonds.

By the time we get through with it—using the mayor's preference for including expected revenues over the term—it’s easily a $4.2b stadium and campus project with limited capacity in the near future to produce revenues that support the general fund.

The revenue sources we're planning to set up capture $2.9b in public money over the life of the new deal.

I'd say let's call it what it is: Mayor Cooper's $4.2b stadium proposal.

The good news is this term sheet is just a signal to lawyers. Either keep working, refine, or stop. I hope that the work of the East Bank Stadium Committee and Council members looking for a better deal will produce something more like what we accomplished when the Council worked with Mayor Barry as partners and collaborators looking for better protections for taxpayers in creating a soccer-specific stadium as a public facility.

In that spirit, I’ve offered an amendment to the term sheet I hope colleagues will consider that tries to put some guardrails on the surplus fund, on the Capital Repairs Reserve Fund, on parking obligations, on infrastructure, and looks to leverage more of the capacity of ticket taxes to craft a deal that moves a step in the direction of the very successful deal Mayor Briley struck with the Predators, which fundamentally removed taxpayers from paying for the current or future costs of the facility.

I hope that what comes back to us in the late winter or early spring as the actual deal takes stock of some of the community input and produces better taxpayer protections and stronger, more certain public benefits than what is expressed in the “framework” we’ve seen so far.

I hear far more from the public right now about pot holes, trash pickup, transit, and basic neighborhood infrastructure and city services than I do about our need to prioritize a conversation about a new football stadium. Let's not lose sight of our priorities as a city ...

What's Happening

  • At CM Allen's behest, we'll be electing members to a new Tax Incentive and Abatement Study and Formulating Committee. [22-291]
  • I think CM Cash's proposed rule change will probably produce more consistency out of committees, although I'm sure some CMs will be temporarily surprised by its impact. [Rule 8 Amendment]
  • I want to hear all the discussion and see where we get with amendments, including one I'm offering, as we decide on a term sheet "framework" for a new football stadium. As I walk in tonight, though, I'm concerned the "framework" that's been negotiated isn't offering Metro taxpayers a provably better deal than the current lease. Fortunately, it's non-binding, and we have plenty of time to do more work. [RS2022-1827]
  • We're considering an important settlement tonight between Meharry Medical College and Nashville General Hospital. Based on multiple discussions, I support the settlement. [RS2022-1899]
  • We've had many conversations over the past two terms as our fiscal position grew unstable and we've confronted so many externalities about "fund balance" and the idea of reserves. I'm inclined to support a new policy intended to keep things stable over the long term. [RS2022-1901]
  • CM VanReece has proposed a use of tax increment financing (TIF) outside of a redevelopment district. Her vision for Madison has been ambitious and successful, and I think this proposal merits serious consideration. [RS2022-1902]
  • I have had the pleasure and the privilege of working with Fisk University closely for 7 years during their sesquicentennial celebration and an impressive series of success, including increased enrollment and campus expansion. I understand the concerns of such a large share of American Rescue Plan dollars going to a single investment on a private university campus, but I expect the impact of this investment to be one of benefit to the greater community. [RS2022-1905]
  • I'm still undecided on a proposed overhaul of board and commission appointments. I'll be interested in floor discussion. [BL2022-1528]
  • It seems like CMs Young and Henderson might've arrived on a solution to better enabling traffic calming to be supported by private funding. [BL2022-1572]

What's Coming

What I'm Hearing

  • We still have too many complaints about noise and, worse, frustration about how Metro handles the concerns.
  • I keep hearing about a downtown that's out of control. Five years ago in this newsletter, under the headline "What to Do about Downtown," I recommended that Nashville create a "night mayor" position. It sounds like we might've just done that. It's always good when good ideas get implemented.

What I've Been Up To

  • I'm continuing to work with constituents on noise issues, stormwater issues, and a few other basic constituent services, and there are still a lot of people working through the aftermath of the tornado and the bombing.
  • I presented a proclamation at the annual homelessness memorial, which is always a poignant reminder of the results of our priorities and policy choices.
  • I've had a lot of holiday gatherings to attend, including the city's menorah lighting last night.

What You Can Do

  • We're headed in to a dreadful cold snap this week just in time for Christmas. Please consider supporting the organizations that make our Cold Weather Community Response Plan work for our unhoused neighbors.

Find some people you love, give grace and ensure dignity for the people working through the holidays (the doctor in the family is on call in our house), and if you have more than enough blessings look for some ways to share them.

My best ...


Freddie O'Connell

Metro Council, District 19

Mayoral Candidate, 2023


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