Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
October 26, 2021

Hello everyone! It's Tuesday and we feel great about it.

๐Ÿ Today's weather: Another lovely fall day, with a high of about 61.

Situational awareness: ๐ŸŽ‰ It's chilly outside, but the team at Axios Local is in the midst of a heatwave. We were named the Hottest Launch in Publishing by the Adweek Hot List!

  • Learn more here about what makes Axios so hot.

Today's newsletter is 930 words โ€” a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: State lawmaker indicted

Portrait of Tennessee State Sen. Brian Kelsey
Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee General Assembly

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, was indicted and charged with violating federal campaign finance laws in an effort to support his unsuccessful 2016 bid for Congress.

  • Federal prosecutors announced the indictment Monday. Kelsey maintains his innocence, saying he is the victim of "a political witch hunt."
  • The indictment also charged Joshua Smith, the owner of The Standard social club, with participating in the alleged scheme.

Why it matters: The indictment follows a years-long investigation. The Tennessean first reported on Kelsey's campaign finance transactions in 2017.

  • Kelsey, 43, chairs the Senate Education Committee, a particularly powerful position as Gov. Bill Lee pursues an extensive reevaluation of the state's formula for funding schools.

The details: The indictment alleges Kelsey and Smith worked with unindicted co-conspirators, political groups and others to illegally funnel more than $106,000 from Kelsey's state campaign coffers to support his federal race in 2016.

  • One of the unindicted co-conspirators was described as a lawmaker expelled from the General Assembly in 2016. Jeremy Durham, the only lawmaker expelled during that timeframe, was ousted following sexual misconduct allegations.

What they're saying: Kelsey derided the charges during an online news conference Monday, saying it was an attempt by the Biden administration to boot him and clear the way for a Democratic replacement.

  • "These five-year-old, unfounded allegations have been reviewed and re-reviewed, and I look forward to being cleared at trial," Kelsey said.
  • The Tennessean reported that Smith sent an email to members of The Standard on Monday saying he was cooperating with the investigation. Smith's attorney Hal Hardin told the Associated Press they "look forward to presenting our proof to an impartial jury and judge."

The bottom line: Kelsey and Smith face charges of conspiracy, illegally transferring "soft money" as a federal candidate and his agent and illegally transferring โ€œsoft moneyโ€ as a state officeholder and his agent.

  • Kelsey is also charged with making and accepting excessive contributions.
  • If convicted, the men face up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

Between the lines: Kelsey is one of several state lawmakers to face the scrutiny of recent federal investigations.

  • State Sen. Katrina Robinson, D-Memphis, was convicted last month on four counts of wire fraud.
  • FBI agents raided the homes and offices of several state lawmakers in January.

What's next: Kelsey must request an ethics review to determine if he can hold his leadership role in the education committee while the indictment is pending.

  • If he fails to request a review from the Senate Ethics Committee in 10 days, he will be suspended as chair.
  • Kelsey and Smith were asked to surrender to U.S. Marshals by 10am on Nov. 5. They will appear before a magistrate judge.

2. Price tag for Metro land deal goes up

Nashville Mayor John Cooper speaking at a podium.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Two-and-a-half years after the Metro Council failed to purchase the former Tennessee School for the Blind building for $11.3 million, Nashville Mayor John Cooper is proposing to buy the state-owned property for $20 million.

  • Cooper, an at-large council member at the time, was one of six votes against the land purchase proposed by then-Mayor David Briley in June, 2019. The purchase needed 21 votes to pass but received just 17. Cooper went on to defeat Briley in the mayoral election in September.

Why it matters: Cooper tells Axios he wishes the city had bought the property earlier at the lower price, but touted the proposal as a great deal now for the city.

  • Cooper says the state could otherwise put the land up for sale at auction and garner much more than the $20 million Metro is offering. He says the 88 Hermitage property is vital for activating the Cumberland riverfront and creating more greenspace downtown as part of a new project called Wharf Park.

What he's saying: "I should be honest and tell you that some of this is forcing my hand, because the state is going to sell 88 Hermitage to somebody," Cooper says.

3. Nashville nabs major WWE event

A wrestler twirls vertically in the air as spectators watch.
Charlotte Flair spins midair vs. Becky Lynch during SummerSlam in 2018. Photo: Rob Tringali /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

The WWE announced Monday that its annual SummerSlam event is coming to Nissan Stadium next July 30.

Why it matters: It's likely to be the most-attended pro wrestling event in Tennessee history.

  • SummerSlam is one of the WWE's four biggest pay-per-view cards annually, and typically brings other live events to venues in the host city throughout the week.

Context: Nashville has a deep history in pro wrestling, having served as the launching pad for wrestlers such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, Sting and the Ultimate Warrior.

4. The Setlist: Got Garth?

Illustration of the windows of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, doubling as a graphic equalizer.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

๐Ÿค  Garth Brooks announced an Opry House show after his Ryman gigs sold out. (The Tennessean)

๐ŸŒณ Nashville's capital spending plan includes a record amount for local parks. (WPLN)

๐Ÿ˜ท Metro's drive-thru vaccination sites are now offering COVID-19 boosters from Johnson & Johnson. (News Channel 5)

๐Ÿฆ  Lawmakers are returning to Nashville this week for a special session targeting COVID-19 restrictions. (Tennessee Journal)

5. Coffee cart on the move

Patrons order coffee at an outdoor coffee cart
Photo courtesy of Weak Coffee

Commuters in East Nashville have a new spot to grab their morning caffeine fix.

The details: Weak Coffee is served out of a small cart, but they've got the morning essentials covered, including espresso, pour overs and teas. Their latte art stands up against Nashville's brick-and-mortar shops.

  • The coffee cart first opened last year on Gallatin Road in the Inglewood area.
  • When Nelson Drum Shop moved to the building near Riverside Grillshack, Weak Coffee followed.

๐Ÿ’ญ Adam's thought bubble: There is no such thing as too many coffee shops, if you ask me. This new addition slightly off the beaten path is in line to become a new favorite for quick orders on the east side.

Our picks:

๐Ÿบ Nate is enjoying this beer from Southern Grist while grilling out.

๐ŸŒž Adam is looking for outdoor lunch spots so he can soak up this perfect weather.