Sunday, September 16, 2018

Councilman Robert Swope explains his vote on the Fairground/MLS issue.

by Rod Williams - At the September 4th Council meeting, the council voted to approve several

Robert Swope
pieces of legislation necessary to finalized the MLS deal. This issue had been before the Council for months and pitted soccer fans, city insiders, and elites against advocates of saving the fairgrounds. The part of the deal of most concern to those who support saving the fairground was the giveaway of ten acres of fairground property to the wealthy developers bringing MLS soccer to Nashville. They contented that to make the deal work they had to have the ten acres for mixed-use development.

Of all of the pieces of legislation before the Council to finalized the deal, the one piece of legislation that had the least chance of passing and thereby the best chance of derailing the MLS deal and the ten acre giveaway was  Substitute Bill BL2018-1289. This legislation approved the demolition of certain buildings and structures necessary for the construction of a new Major League Soccer Stadium and the imposing of a privilege tax on the sale of tickets to events at the new Major League Soccer Stadium. The reason this was the best chance to derail the MLS deal was because this bill required 27 votes to pass instead of a simple majority. It passed by a vote of 31 to 8. 

Recently I posted How they voted on the Fairground giveaway and who switched sides.  Included among  those who voted in favor of the MLS deal who had previously been opponents was Councilman Robert Swope. This came as a shock to many.  Robert had been a critic of the deal. On this and other issues, such as the transit issue, Robert Swope had always taken the conservative position and had emerged of one a very few dependable conservative voices in the Council and a Republican leader in Nashville.

I asked Robert to explain his vote which he did graciously and in detail.  I am posting below his explanation in full.

As you know, the Fairgrounds Nashville MLS Soccer deal is a highly emotional and complicated issue.  In light of this fact, I have, for months, attempted to not only accommodate soccer in Nashville, but protect the existing Fairgrounds and all the activities that currently reside there.    I do believe that both can exist together, if sane minds prevail.

For the past 20+ years, every mayoral administration has attempted to bulldoze the fairgrounds to make profits off of public land.  This has been an ongoing WAR.  The 1902 land grant, the 1962 Charter of Nashville, and the 2011 referendum have done their best to protect this 117 acres.... but for the last 2 decades, the war has intensified.  With each battle becoming harder to fight.

In my humble opinion, the war needs to end.

How does this happen?  Protect the elephant in the room.  In the 117 acres that is Fairgrounds Nashville, the elephant is the speedway.  One of the oldest tracks in America, producer of more NASCAR drivers than all other tracks in America combined, and a jewel that is currently in desperate need of love and attention.  If you want to "Save The Fairgrounds"... then you need to save the elephant.  Long Term.  Something that no other person or group has managed to do in the last two decades.

When the MLS deal was proposed last October, I fought it tooth and nail.  What was proposed would be the start of the end of the speedway.... and as a consequence, the State Fair and the Flea Market... and ultimately the Fairgrounds itself.  I consider these three things the 3 legged stool that IS the Fairgrounds.  And I have spent months working to save them all.  Months spent on my own dime, my own time, and my own energy.

To make a very long story short (considering I have personally spent over 600 hours working this), Speedway Motor Sports (SMI), the folks who own Bristol and a half dozen other tracks, approached me two months ago.  After numerous meetings and calls, at my request, they wrote a letter to the Mayor and all Councilmembers expressing their interest in a long term contract to manage the Speedway.  This letter fell on totally deaf ears.  This was totally amazing to me.  No-one even had the time to respond.  Except myself.

So.... I began calling, meeting, and emailing the mayor, council members, Tony Formosa, Melissa Smithson, Shane Smiley, John Rose and numerous others attempting to bring everyone to the table to once and for all Save The Fairgrounds.  This was an intensive all out drive to convince the Mayor, and everyone else, that in order to save the three legged stool, we need to save the elephant.  If the speedway were to be contracted on a 30 year deal, then everything else would be saved as well.

There are a hundred other things involved here... .including the needs of the State Fair, the monthly Flea Market vendors, Christmas Village, Hunters Auto show, the Botanical shows, Boat Show, and hundreds more.  All of these were at risk IF the speedway were to fail.  I took my time and energy to speak with most, if not all of them.  Including chairing two Codes Fairgrounds and Farmers Market Committee special meetings in council.

This is a very complex issue....with hundreds of variables, and I wanted to see this from all sides before I acted upon anything.

Please make note:  I was out of the country on business when the council vote occurred last November.  IF I had been in chambers that night, I would have voted no.  Since that time, and until the third reading, and final vote, I have abstained (essentially voting no) from every vote.  I did this because during this entire process I was working my *** off to "Save The Fairgrounds" by bringing SMI to the table, coordinating with the State Fair, the Flea Market vendors, the Save The Fairgrounds coalition, the mayors office, the Fair Board, and others.  Basically bringing a company, and its owners, who are worth far more than the entire Nashville Soccer group combined, to protect the elephant.

Each of these groups agreed with me on several key issues that become the mantra of my personal mission.  They are:

1) The Formosa family shall remain promoting and operating local racing.  (This was agree to by SMI from our first conversation)
2) SMI would receive a 30 year contract to promote NASCAR racing at the speedway.
3) SMI would agree (and they have) to SHARE the expense of rebuilding the speedway with the city.  50-50.  This includes safety upgrades, new seating, new PA, new lighting, a full television/media center, sound barriers, and numerous other upgrades.  No other private entity has EVER offered the city such a deal.
4) The State Fair and the Flea Market vendors would have voting seats on the design board for the new exhibit space (this is being done now)
5) The State Fair would be offered a 30 year deal from the city IF the speedway were secured for the same time period.

All of these things are currently being done.  It will take weeks for these deals to be consummated... but I have personally shaken hands with the mayor and the SMI folks and feel comfortable that these men will honor their promises.

This all comes down to trust.  I am a man that lives up to his word. And I expect, and demand, that others do as well.  My yes vote on the stadium and additional 10 acres of development came at a VERY high price.

My price was the protection of the remaining 100 acres of Fairgrounds Nashville for generations.
My price was the end of a 20+ year war.
My price was saving a 100 year old treasure from any and all further development.
My price was creating a crown jewel where there is now a run down facility for all to enjoy.
My price was never having to spend hundreds of hours of my life again in protecting this treasure we all love in different ways.

My concession was having to agree to the additional 10 acres of land.  This was a pill I HATED to swallow.... but agreed to based on solemn promises made to me by the mayor, SMI and others.  It was the hardest vote I have had to make on this council.

I expect all of these agreed to promises to be consummated within the coming weeks.  SMI has been in town three times and has taken meetings with all the parties relating to the "three legged stool".  So far, everyone seems to be in agreement.  They will be back in town within a week and written agreements are forthcoming as I write this to you.  I TRUST that men who have agreed in principle will honor their words moving forward.

Again... this is about trust.  Something this city desperately needs to regain.  I hope I have played a part in rebuilding that trust, for the betterment of all, the protection of the Fairgrounds property, and in building a facility that we are all proud of....... and not simply been played.  Time will tell.  It always does.

All the Best,


Robert Swope
Metro Councilman - District 4
Nashville, Tennessee

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