May 2, 2023 - Politics

Nashville stadium deal becomes a wedge issue in mayor's race

Illustration of the Davidson County Courthouse and Nashville City Hall in the colors of the city flag with a checkmark drawing on in front of it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The divisive Metro Council vote on Mayor John Cooper's $2.1 billion funding proposal for a new Titans stadium injected the sleepy Nashville mayor's race with a defining wedge issue.

Why it matters: The race is off to a slow start, with candidates entering the fray later than usual because of Cooper's decision not to seek re-election. The question of whether each candidate supported the plan could become a litmus test for voters.

State of play: On the morning after council voted 26-12 to approve the stadium, Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell sent an email to supporters with the subject line, "I said no."

  • Businessperson Jim Gingrich has also been a vocal opponent of the stadium deal. He spoke against it at the public hearing last week and aired campaign ads blasting the project.

Where things stand: O'Connell is the only candidate to vote against the plan. Councilmember Sharon Hurt voted in favor after she pushed for community investments by the Titans.

  • During last year's legislative session, state Sens. Heidi Campbell and Jeff Yarbro voted in favor of stadium funding components enabled by the state.
  • Businessperson Alice Rolli and former Metro official Matt Wiltshire have generally been supportive of the deal early on the campaign trail.

Yes, but: The candidates are unlikely to be so reductive regarding the deal in the run-up to the election. Expect supporters to make the argument that they would have negotiated differently.

For example: In an interview with the Nashville Banner, Campbell mentioned the considerable financial burden the city faced under the current lease at Nissan Stadium, but she went on to say "the problem is that in the past, we haven't had people in the administration who are making good deals for Nashville."

  • Opposing the stadium can also be a double-edged sword. It may win over voters but turn off pro-business donors who can bankroll a campaign.

The bottom line: Election Day is less than three months away, and the Titans stadium project offers the candidates an early chance to point to a high-profile issue and make their case to voters.

Be smart: Read about who's running and the most recent fundraising numbers in the mayor's race.


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