Sunday, April 07, 2024

Plans to Bring NASCAR Back to Nashville Not Dead Yet. East Bank Authority approval may be being used to leverage action on the racetrack.

 Plans to Bring NASCAR Back to Nashville Not Dead Yet. 

By Stephen Elliott, Nashville Banner, April 3, 2024 - Mayor Freddie O’Connell built much of last year’s bid for higher office on the back of opposition to a plan for the city to help fund the construction of a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans on city-owned land on the banks of the Cumberland River. 

Perhaps it seemed obvious then that he would also oppose a plan to help fund the renovation of the city-owned Fairgrounds Speedway to pave the way for the return of NASCAR in Nashville. 

Now, despite some assumptions that John Cooper’s departure from the mayor’s office meant the death of the NASCAR deal, discussions between the O’Connell administration and proposed track operator Speedway Motorsports are ongoing. 

O’Connell’s position on the issue has evolved. 

In November 2022, when O’Connell still expected to run against Cooper, the then-Metro councilmember was clear. 

“The city’s priorities—and mine—are cost of living and quality of life, including housing, transit, and safety,” he wrote on social media. “The mayor’s priorities are huge public investments in stadiums and race tracks.”

By June 2023, as he was scrapping with several candidates in an open field and the lame-duck Cooper was pushing the NASCAR deal in Metro Council, O’Connell again appeared opposed. 

“We can’t focus on what is being referred to as a ‘neglected’ tourism venue before we focus on our neglected neighborhoods,” he said on June 2. “It’s past time to get our priorities right.”

Later in June, he said: “As with any deal presented to me, I will review it carefully, but I will say this: as I review a budget that doesn’t do as much as it should for public employees — including first responders — or transit, accepting another offer from the [Convention and Visitors Corp.] and state for a tourism-focused endeavor at a local public facility is not my priority.”

By the time O’Connell took the top spot in the first round of voting and transitioned into a runoff against conservative Alice Rolli, his tune had changed somewhat. 

“As someone who grew up hearing the sounds of the speedway, the speedway is actually a great characteristic of our more-than-a-century-old fairgrounds,” he said in one runoff debate. “The question going forward is going to be how to honor the speedway, make responsible investments and make sure we are addressing as thoroughly as possible community concerns. … I wouldn’t say I’m committed to the plan that sort of petered out here at the end of the term, but I am absolutely committed to making sure we have a successful conversation about the speedway.”

He won the race and quickly pivoted to setting up an administration, which is now in negotiations with Speedway Motorsports as his office juggles a series of priorities. (read more)

Rod's Comment: Apparently, some horse-trading is going on and the East Bank Authority approval may be being used to leverage action on the racetrack. See Below.

Lawmakers Easing Off Brakes On Nashville’s East Bank Authority Bill

By Sam Stockard [Tennessee Lookout, April 5, 2024 - Legislation to create a special authority to oversee the 130-acre East Bank area surrounding the Titans stadium in Nashville could be reaching the finish line, even as outside forces try to wave a caution flag.

Lawmakers in the Senate delayed the measure, Senate Bill 2968 sponsored by Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, until next week after finance committee chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, had several concerns about the legislation. 

In the House, Local Government Committee Chairman John Crawford, R-Bristol/Kingsport, appears to be satisfied after sending the legislation to the Comptroller’s Office for review. It could go back before his panel next week for reconsideration after he requested the Calendar & Rules Committee take the rare move of sending it backwards rather than to a floor vote.

North Carolina-based Speedway Motorsports, LLC, which owns Bristol Motor Speedway, was supposedly a key factor in the bill’s snail-like pace. The racing company wanted state lawmakers to use the East Bank Authority as leverage to force Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell to strike a deal to help fund renovations at Nashville Fairgrounds racetrack. 

Former Nashville Mayor John Cooper struck a deal with the company in 2022, but failed to get it approved by the Metro Nashville Council before he left office. But Joe Hall, a representative for the company, said Wednesday the group is not trying to derail the bill. (read more)

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