A preliminary step in building a new Nashville Sounds ballpark could be taking form, with Mayor Karl Dean’s administration planning to bring in an outside firm to study the need, feasibility and potential locations for a downtown minor league baseball stadium.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling told The City Paper Tuesday the city is likely to issue a request for proposals “some time within the next 30 or 60 days” seeking a qualified firm to “engage in the site selection process” and feasibility of a new ballpark for the Nashville Sounds. The study would also try to answer whether a new stadium is in fact necessary.
“The first step needs to be an analysis of where a stadium could be, looking at all the potential sites that have been discussed, doing an analysis of the sites and coming in with a recommendation of where it should be built,” Riebeling said when asked about the status of stadium talks between Dean’s administration and Sounds management.
“Until we get that done, all the talk about baseball stadiums and all that are really just kind of speculative,” he said. “That seems to be the most concrete thing we should do to get things moving in the right direction.”
The Sounds, the AAA-affiliate of the major league’s Milwaukee Brewers, are embarking on their third season under New York-based owners MFP Real Estate. The group purchased the team in 2009.
From the beginning, the Sounds’ owners have been outspoken about their desire to land Metro assistance to construct a downtown facility to replace outdated Greer Stadium. Last winter, the team ramped up its pitch for a new ballpark, hiring prominent real estate attorney Tom White and public relations veteran John Siegenthaler Jr. to oversee these efforts. The Sounds also tapped Hastings Architecture Associates to produce stadium designs and renderings.
The Sounds’ preferred location for a new stadium is the 11-acre former thermal plant site, situated south of Broadway, where the team’s former owners had at one time agreed to build a ballpark. Their initial agreement with Metro fell apart in 2007, and the stadium never materialized.
“We welcome an independent study of the best place to build a new ballpark in Nashville,” Frank Ward, principal Sounds owner, said in a statement. “We have always made it clear we think the thermal site is the best location. And anything that brings us closer to a baseball stadium Nashville can be proud of is a good idea.”
Dean, however, has expressed interest in building a stadium near the state capitol at the former Sulphur Dell location that served as the home of the former Nashville Vols. The site includes land the state owns. Dean has said the thermal site should make a statement about Nashville, and that it could be better suited for an amphitheater.
Sulphur Dell has also captured the curiosity of several Metro Council members who say a new ballpark in north of the Central Business District could provide a needed boost by spurring development in the area, while revisiting the city’s baseball tradition.
“Baseball history and heritage in Nashville is located at Sulphur Dell,” At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard said. “The stadium should go there because that’s where baseball in Nashville all began. We need to bring baseball back to its original site.
“We have not invested the brick and mortar north of Charlotte [Avenue] like we’ve done in SoBro, like we’ve done in other areas of the town,” Maynard added. “This is a great chance for Metro government to show its support for economic development for all of Davidson County.”
Other potential stadium sites discussed include properties near Music City Center, which is still under construction; the intersection of 11th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue; and the East Bank of the Cumberland River.
Riebeling said companies qualified to conduct the study could include architecture or engineering firms as well as sports consulting firms experienced in stadium analyses. Though a request for proposals could be issued in the next month or two, it would be several more months until a company is hired and even longer until it produces recommendations.
“If we’re going to be build a baseball stadium, we need to do it in a very public and forthright manner in which everybody has input and we have a lot of community dialogue and discussions on how and where it goes and whether we need one,” Riebeling said.
“The process needs to be … an analysis of potential sites, and that’s what we’re going to start on,” he said.