Axios Nashville

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December 01, 2021

Welcome to December!

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Today's newsletter is 939 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Cooper announces racetrack deal

An aerial image showing proposed renovations to the Nashville racetrack, with stands that can accommodate thousands.
A rendering of proposed renovations to the Nashville fairgrounds racetrack. Image courtesy of the mayor's office.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced an agreement with Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday, setting the stage for fairgrounds racetrack renovations and the return of NASCAR.

Why it matters: The agreement follows years of negotiations and behind-the-scenes work by Cooper to integrate a renovated racetrack into the fairgrounds property while putting the financial burden on Bristol Motor Speedway.

What they're saying: The announcement came with the endorsement of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said in a press release he fell in love with the short-track after driving his first lap at the fairgrounds decades ago.

  • "Nashville Fairgrounds is a historic and iconic venue, and Bristol Motor Speedway is the very best partner to continue that storied history," Earnhardt said. "I'm looking forward to witnessing the next chapter in the life of this historic landmark."

Details: The renovation will be paid for with revenues generated at the facility, including ticket fees, sales tax collections, and lease payments by Bristol Motor Speedway.

  • A Cooper spokesperson tells Axios the plan is to amend the capital improvement budget to allow for a $75 million revenue bond issuance, which will be repaid using those revenue streams.
  • Cooper will reveal more details of the financial plan after it is vetted by an independent sports finance consultant, according to the press release.

2. Fairground's path ahead

A rendering showing "speedway alley" where NASCAR fans can mingle before races at the fairgrounds.
A rendering of proposed renovations to the Nashville fairgrounds. Image courtesy of the mayor's office.

The same referendum that preserved the fairgrounds racetrack a decade ago will now make it more difficult to pass a renovation plan through the Metro Council.

  • The 2011 charter amendment referendum, widely supported by voters, requires 27 council votes to approve plans to demolish the racetrack. The high bar was put in place to make it harder for mayors to raze the facility.

Why it matters: Cooper will need to convince an unwieldy Metro Council that the project should be approved.

Between the lines: Garnering votes will be no easy task. Metro Councilmember Colby Sledge, who represents the fairgrounds area, arrived on the Nashville political scene as a neighborhood activist who supported then-Mayor Karl Dean's plan a decade ago to demolish the racetrack.

  • Neighbors have concerns about noise — though Bristol has vowed to hold fewer racetrack events and build a new sound wall.
  • Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes tells Axios he is especially interested in the traffic and parking plan to accommodate 30,000 people.

How it works: The Fair Board, which also must approve the plan, is in a state of flux. Fair Board commissioner Jason Bergeron tells Axios in an email, "There are still many steps and a lot of work ahead, including much more public engagement."

  • Cooper missed several deadlines to nominate people to city boards and commissions, including the Fair Board. That meant the nominations fell to Vice Mayor Jim Shulman.
  • Two nominees have been rejected by the Metro Council after some members pushed for a Hispanic nominee. Complicating the issue, chairperson Erin McAnally recently resigned her seat on the board, creating two vacancies.
  • In the announcement, Cooper said he will wait until those vacancies are filled before advancing his plan for approval.

3. AT&T plans for bombing anniversary

An image showing the red AT&T building damaged by the bombing, with it's red exterior stripped away at the bottom.
The AT&T building on Second Avenue that was damaged in the Christmas Day bombing. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

AT&T is planning to mark the one-year anniversary of the Christmas Day bombing that damaged its Nashville operations with donations to local nonprofits Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and Thistle Farms.

What she's saying: AT&T Tennessee president Joelle Phillips said Tuesday during a meeting of the Special Bombing Review Commission that the company selected those nonprofits because of their willingness to help people in vulnerable situations.

  • Thistle Farms supports women who survive trafficking, prostitution, and addiction.
  • "They do a lot of work with people who just find themselves in a really dark place," Phillips said. "I'm glad there are people in our community who are trying to help people find their way out of those kinds of places."

The details: A company spokesperson tells Axios more information on the donations will be released in the coming weeks.

Flashback: The suicide bombing took place outside an AT&T network facility on Second Avenue, hobbling telephone, Internet, and 911 services across the region.

  • Phillips' remarks to the commission focused largely on the company's early efforts to restore service in the midst of a heavily restricted federal crime scene.
  • She said the crisis exposed the need for the company to work more closely with law enforcement moving forward.

What's next: Construction is still underway to restore the facility, which will stay in the same location. Phillips said it could be done by the end of next year.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of a neon sign in the shape of an arrow reading "THE SETLIST."
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🏥 A Chattanooga hospital chain sued TennCare over its billing practices. (Tennessee Lookout)

ğŸŽ¤ Hootie and the Blowfish announced a surprise gig at Nashville rock club Exit/In, the latest in a long line of artists to play the intimate venue for its 50th anniversary. (Hootie's Twitter)

💰 School districts and state lawyers want to delay a lawsuit over the funding formula while Gov. Bill Lee considers changes. (The Tennessean)

🍫 Goo Goo Chocolate Co. recently spent $2 million to revamp its downtown storefront. (Southern Kitchen)

5. Blackburn a possible Trump running mate

Sen. Marsha Blackburn speaking into a microphone during a Senate Hearing.
Photo: Tom Williams/Pool via AP

Sen. Marsha Blackburn was listed in a Politico report as a possible running mate for former President Donald Trump if he runs again in 2024.

  • Politico reports that "those familiar with Trump's thinking" say he would like a woman, person of color, or trusted adviser as his vice presidential nominee.

According to the story, Blackburn and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds have seen their profiles rise as possible running mates because they are "tough as nails and conservative as hell."

🍸 Nate is watching this movie and listening to this album.

ğŸŽ„ Adam is switching between the new Adele album and Christmas music.