Apr 3, 2023 - News

Worries arise about Titans stadium funding after battles with state

A rendering of the proposed Titans stadium

A rendering of the proposed Titans stadium. Image: courtesy of the Tennessee Titans

Amid a bruising legislative session with a slate of bills targeting Nashville, some Metro Council members are hesitant to support a Titans stadium financing plan over fears state Republicans could try to yank the money away in the future.

Why it matters: Mayor John Cooper's administration can't afford to lose support on the council with a critical second vote scheduled for Tuesday. There were 27 votes in favor of a preliminary term sheet in December.

Context: State-approved funding for a new stadium has been pitched as a lynchpin to the deal and a rare opportunity to defray the cost of a Metro project.

  • Gov. Bill Lee included a $500 million state bond issuance in last year's budget to help pay for it.
  • The legislature also enabled Metro to raise its hotel tax and create a sales tax capture zone around a new stadium in order to help cover Metro's $760 million debt obligation.

What he's saying: Metro Councilmember Dave Rosenberg abstained from voting on the term sheet in December. Rosenberg tells Axios he's likely voting no Tuesday because of concerns about Republicans targeting the tax revenue streams.

  • Rosenberg points to state legislation proposed in January by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to defund the Music City Center convention hall. That bill was amended so that it limits how Metro can spend excess convention center tax collections instead of defunding the project.
  • Another state bill sought to give the state control of the city's Sports Authority, which is the landlord for Nashville's pro sports venues. That proposal was also watered down in recent weeks so that Republican leaders make six appointments to the Sports Authority board of directors while the Nashville mayor makes seven.
  • "Either they could try to take away the money or they could put strings attached to the tax dollars, and both are equally bad for Metro," Rosenberg says. "I don't see how anyone could look at how this session has gone and trust that Republicans are not going to continue to attack Metro."

The other side: Sam Wilcox, one of Cooper's top advisers, tells Axios the administration is working to assuage concerns among council members over the state funding. In short, Wilcox says there are strings attached that would prevent the state from targeting the designated revenue streams.

  • Wilcox says "once revenue streams are contractually committed to bond holders" it would be "unconstitutional for any amount of those revenues to be impaired prior to the expiration of those contracts."

What we're watching: The sales tax dollars generated around the stadium would do more than pay for debt under Cooper's plan.

  • After the annual debt payments are covered, excess revenue would be used to pay for infrastructure immediately around the building, stadium upkeep and for a reserve fund to cover future shortfalls.

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