May 25, 2023 - News

Metro Nashville sues over new racetrack renovation law

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In a surprising legal maneuver Wednesday, Metro sued over a new state law that would make it easier for Mayor John Cooper's fairgrounds racetrack renovation to happen.

The intrigue: The lawsuit would seem to put the city's legal department at odds with the mayor's office.

  • The city argues the law is another example of the state illegally singling out one local government.

State of play: Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee signed a measure into law that lowers the number of Metro Council votes needed to approve demolishing the existing racetrack from 27 to 21.

  • Stakeholders think Cooper would have a hard time garnering 27 votes in support of his plan to partner with Bristol Motor Speedway to renovate the racetrack and bring NASCAR races back to Nashville. The expectation is that Cooper will push for a vote on the racetrack development plan after the budget is approved next month.

Between the lines: A silver lining of suing now is that Cooper can quickly determine how many votes the plan needs.

Flashback: Nashville voters widely approved a charter amendment that required 27 votes to demolish fairgrounds buildings in 2011. At the time, then-Mayor Karl Dean's administration was pushing a plan to raze the historic track and redevelop the property.

What he's saying: Jamie Hollin, the attorney and former Metro Council member who led the push in 2011, tells Axios the spirit of that referendum was to preserve auto racing.

  • Working on behalf of the Save Our Fairgrounds group, Hollin lobbied the state to pass the new law during the recent legislative session.
  • "The use was going to be maintained — racing," he says, explaining why voters backed the charter amendment. "Lest we forget, after the referendum was approved in 2011 under Karl Dean's mayoral administration, that place became Siberia."

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