Sounds want a new stadium — does the city?

Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 11:45pm

Just days from now, fans will grab their gloves, throw on their caps and turn onto Chestnut Street to watch the hometown Nashville Sounds take on the Iowa Cubs. It’s another home opener at Greer Stadium.

Over the years, Nashville’s minor league ballpark has showcased its share of stars, from former greats like Don Mattingly and Willie McGee to current stars Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. But the stadium, built in 1978, still feels like a relic of from a mostly forgettable era.

Sure, Greer’s condition has improved. Last year’s $2.5 million renovations restored previously decrepit bathrooms, placed seats where there were once gaps, and added a better sound system. Despite these upgrades and the famous guitar-shaped scoreboard that’s been a crowd pleaser since 1993, Greer has seen better days — especially compared with the wave of new downtown Minor League Baseball stadiums cropping up throughout the country.

Recognizing the shortcomings of Greer and the inconvenience of its location, the Sounds’ new owners have casually pitched their desire for a new downtown ballpark at a few informal meetings with the mayor’s office. So far, the group has been testing the waters, but as the new season arrives, the organization is ready for talks to pick up.

For the time being, Metro doesn’t appear to share that sense of urgency.

From the moment New York-based MFP Real Estate purchased the city’s Minor League Baseball club in 2008, the group has made clear its desire to depart the dilapidated, 32-year-old stadium for a new downtown ballpark. Although the former Sulphur Dell site — northeast of the state Capitol building — and the fairgrounds have been bandied about as potential locations, Sounds owners are clear they would prefer to build on a valuable, city-owned 12-acre property near downtown’s riverfront where an old thermal plant once sat. It’s the same tract the previous Sounds owners eyed before they botched a deal three years ago.

Click here to read how Louisville built a new ballpark

In recent weeks, the new ownership group has made a calculated push for a new stadium, hiring veteran real estate attorney Tom White as legal counsel, Hastings Architects to produce renderings and John Seigenthaler Jr. as public relations strategist. To borrow the overused but appropriate baseball expression, the Sounds are ready to play ball.

“Timing-wise, I’d love to resolve it this year,” Sounds co-owner Frank Ward told The City Paper. “But that’s something not in our control.”

For the Sounds, time appears to be of the essence. At the end of the year, the organization’s affiliation with Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers is up for renewal. In an era when retro downtown minor league ballparks are popping up in cities like Louisville, Ky.; Durham, N.C.; and Reno, Nev., the Brewers would like to see Nashville move toward that end.

“One of the things that the Brewers have made very clear to us is, absent the clear indication that there’s going to be somewhere else other than Greer to play, the Brewers are probably not interested in being affiliated with us,” Ward said. “They realize you can’t have the stadium tomorrow, but they want to know that something is going to transpire.”

Ward didn’t rule out relocating the Sounds if they’re unable to build a new stadium here.

“You would have to explore something,” he said. “I don’t know what that is yet. A reasonable businessman would have to say, ‘I can’t afford to play here. I can’t afford to continue pumping money down the hole. I can’t continue to keep losing money. I have to look at what alternatives are available to me.’ ”

City’s play

Ward, who maintains he’s “guardedly optimistic” that a deal would emerge and said he has no complaints about city leadership, suggested a formal stadium proposal awaits the go-ahead from Mayor Karl Dean. “That’s more driven by the city,” Ward said. “When the city says, ‘Here’s what we want to know. Here’s the proposal we want,’ we will present it to them.”

But Dean, Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling and others in the mayor’s office aren’t too eager to publicly discuss the topic — not now, anyway; not in the middle of the budget process; and certainly not on the heels of the campaign for a new $585 million downtown convention center. Moreover, officials in the mayor’s office said it’s incumbent upon the Sounds to offer Metro a presentation.

Contacted by email to interview Dean on the possibility of a new Sounds stadium, mayor’s office spokeswoman Janel Lacy declined. Instead, she offered up a canned statement referring to the mayor as a “huge baseball fan” who would “like to see a new baseball stadium in Nashville at some point.”

“When the time comes, there will be a full public discussion of the issue, but now is not that time,” the statement continued. “Mayor Dean’s full attention is focused on the budget.”

Meanwhile, Riebeling, who has been point man in discussions with the team, said he’s “not ready to sit down and negotiate anything.”

“They haven’t presented anything,” he said. “I’ve got some higher priorities right now that are going to take up my time over the next 90 days.”

Although no financing plan has been drafted, the Sounds would most likely hope to pay for the stadium through a variety of sources, including tax increment financing, or TIF, a common tool employed by municipalities — and typical among newer ballparks — in which future tax revenues from a designated district are dedicated to a large economic development project. There would also follow, the reasoning goes, ancillary development from which sales and real estate taxes would be used to help cover the debt.

If that’s the case, a deal could mirror the memorandum of understanding that then-Mayor Bill Purcell, former Sounds General Manager Glenn Yaeger and Baltimore-based developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse agreed upon in 2005. Under that plan for a $43 million stadium, which included a sizable mixed-use development, the Sounds agreed to take a $23 million loan from a consortium of 12 banks. Property tax revenues from surrounding buildings were supposed to generate $17 million in TIF dollars, and another $3 million would have come from the purchase of the land from Metro.

The deal fell through after Metro found the Sounds opted not to pay $3 million for complete construction documents, as requested by the city. Throughout the well-documented stadium struggle, Purcell never put his political clout to work for a ballpark.

“From the outset, it was not a project Mayor Purcell was terribly in favor of,” recalled developer Michael Hayes, former director of Struever Bros. “Had Purcell pushed it, it absolutely would have happened fast. It would have happened. He never pushed. And he never wanted to do any public financing.”

A ‘diverse’ project

The mayor and the Metro Council will ultimately decide whether another large downtown investment happens. The new ownership group is in good standing with most, having pumped $2.5 million worth of renovations into Greer Stadium last year as an act of good faith to the city.

Metro Councilman Mike Jameson, who represents the district that includes the thermal plant, said he supports a new downtown stadium, but his endorsement has some contingencies. First, he said the stadium must include a mixed-use component to facilitate future growth in the area.

“If it simply remains a stand-alone stadium, it has sort of unfortunately a carcinogenic effect on future development,” Jameson said. “Nothing has emerged on the campus of LP Field in 10 years. And that’s not the sort of effect you would like to see.”

Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans, meanwhile, said the key for the Sounds to reach a stadium deal is to “protect the taxpayer, the sales-tax payer and the property-tax payer” by making sure the project is diverse enough to allow it to be financed on its own success.

But while she called the last Sounds stadium proposal a “great one,” Evans cautioned that the public might not be eager to dive into another “glamour project.”

“I personally think baseball is fabulous,” Evans said. “It’s my favorite sport by far. I would love to see the Sounds have a new ballpark, but enormous amounts of political capital have gone into the convention center, and the public’s a little weary of this, so we need to be very careful.”

53 Comments on this post:

By: MusicCity615 on 4/4/10 at 10:19

Build a new stadium downtown with a lot of mixed use development, and find a way to do it not at the taxpayers' expense

By: driver49 on 4/5/10 at 5:26

Forget downtown. Raze the now-empty Bellevue Mall and build a new stadium there. Plenty of room for parking.

By: Kosh III on 4/5/10 at 6:34

"“Nothing has emerged on the campus of LP Field in 10 years. And that’s not the sort of effect you would like to see.”

but...but...but.....I thought they promised us that it would be the economic engine to make us richrichRICH!!!!

The Sounds can have the downtown site: provided they pay for it. No socialist baseball.

By: richgoose on 4/5/10 at 6:51

Now is the time for the SOUNDS to strike. You have a Mayor who is clueless about the financial future of this country and this city. He will build a stadium for this minor league team and float a bond at ridiculous interest rates.

Then down the road the city will forfeit on the bonds. In the meantime the minor league SOUNDS will have a stadium.

By: idgaf on 4/5/10 at 7:14

They can have a new ballpark anytime they are ready to "pitch" in their own money.

Don't like it here MOVE. But you will find out quickly like the old owners did no one wants you at the price you want.

Team up with Vandy who wants a new ballpark.

By: Kosh III on 4/5/10 at 7:26

"Team up with Vandy who wants a new ballpark."

Or use LP field. The two seasons don't really overlap and if there is some occasional overlap, they can work it out.

By: JeffF on 4/5/10 at 7:43

Here is the catch for the Sounds: the site they want is in the now infamous tourism zone for the convention center. In order to pay for that white elephant every 175% of the sales tax growth in that zone will need to go to pay its debt. This means that Metro cannot promise the sales tax collections from the stadium property to repay its debt.

Actually they could promise it but people buying the bonds would soon discover that the same revenue stream will be promised to two different sets of bond holders. Do you think the Mayor is bringing all this up on his "Please Buy My Bonds Tour 2010"?

By: NewYorker1 on 4/5/10 at 8:24

If they build this stadium, I hope they put some really nice shopping around it like a Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman's, Bloomingdales, Hugo Boss, Armani, Versace, etc.

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 8:44

The Chicken Littles are baaaaaaack!

By: MrWeiss on 4/5/10 at 8:46

Look at Memphis and little ol Chattanooga. Nashville needs to get its head out of the clouds and start thinking rationally. There are enough downtown hotels begging for business. Put in a nice ball park and find a sponsor. Done deal. Stop acting like we are Chicago, NY, LA or Dallas.

By: localboy on 4/5/10 at 8:48

""“Nothing has emerged on the campus of LP Field in 10 years. And that’s not the sort of effect you would like to see.”

but...but...but.....I thought they promised us that it would be the economic engine to make us richrichRICH!!!!

The Sounds can have the downtown site: provided they pay for it. No socialist baseball."

Heck, socialist baseball would be a step up from what the capitalists did to us in those other deals-at least the team would be ours.

By: BigPapa on 4/5/10 at 8:55

Yeah I have to say the lack of development around LP should be a BIG clue as to everyone about how bad an investment a sports team is for a city. Take that same money and put it into the fundamental things that make for a nice place to live and you'll be better off in the long run.

By: NewYorker1 on 4/5/10 at 8:57

Oh, and they need a Barney's, Gucci, Prada, and Fendi too.

By: JSBrown303 on 4/5/10 at 9:13

I hope that they finally get a new downtown stadium. It will give people a reason to go downtown in the summer more often. Kind of like the Preds give people a reason to go downtown in the winter.
In essence, it will be good for downtown businesses in the long run. I mean just look how bad the NHL lockout hurt downtown a few years ago. Several businesses closed down.
Go Preds! Go Sounds!

By: NewYorker1 on 4/5/10 at 9:21

The parking sucks downtown. They need better public transportation in and out of downtown so that we don't have to drive down there.

By: Kosh III on 4/5/10 at 9:37

How about requiring a substantial parking garage to go along with the stadium.

Why not share with LP field?

By: JeffF on 4/5/10 at 9:51

We can be just like Memphis! The Red Birds have not paid rent on their stadium and office space in over three years and have defaulted on their bond payments three times. Dare to live the lives of a Memphis little league baseball team!

Seriously, Memphis officials admitted that they were eventually going to see attendance levels at the new park be equal to that of the old park (Ex Catcher With a Big Ego Stadium) once the newness wore off and people realized how difficult and expensive it is to see little league baseball in a downtown area. But the city must have its crown jewel, regardless of cost.

The Red Birds averages under 6000 last year in a stadium environment that needs to average 10,000 just to break even. Little League baseball has no business in built up downtowns. I am sure the teams in Round Rock, Las Vegas, Durham, Lehigh Valley, Pawtucket, Albuquerque, Iowa, Salt Lake, Fresno, Rochester, Reno, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse, Norfolk, Gwinnett, and Tacoma will all agree they have all survived without being in major downtown areas on prime riverfront real estate.

By: nashvillecortes on 4/5/10 at 10:03

I'm pretty much saying "NO" to everything after the 19 million dollar ball room expansion to the gov'nahs palace. Drunken Roman Political Toga Party !!!

I say when we have a surplus of 500 m... then go ahead and build a new convention center... we deserve it.
When we have an xtra 50 milllion laying around.... let's talk baseball.

Till then, My 3 year old would better manage my money so your getting a LOUD NO from me... doesn't matter if its a ball field or a childrens hospital... the answer is NO.

By: NewYorker1 on 4/5/10 at 10:11

Forget the stadium, just build the shopping that I've recommended above.

By: nashvillecortes on 4/5/10 at 10:24

I'll agree with your more parking suggestion.

I would go downtown if there was a cheap and close place to park... parking is the #1 reason I Don't go hang out downtown. 10 bucks to park come on. That's like a "Going downtown tax" . We are way overtaxed as it is.

By: Leazee on 4/5/10 at 10:30

I agree with the statement that we are not Chicago or New York, but are Memphis and Chattanooga. A Triple A team is well-suited to this city, but more importantly, it allows relatively inexpensive entertainment for all families. Not everyone can take a family of four to the Titians or the Predators. But a spring or summer night at the Sounds is priceless! The building of a new ballpark would be an example of our city doing something for its citizenry-enhancing our way of life- unlike a convention center.

By: Kosh III on 4/5/10 at 10:34

"Forget the stadium, just build the shopping that I've recommended above."

Yeah, something like downtown San Diego's Horton Plaza. A 6 story atrium style shopping mecca with a grocery store on the main floor, the top level is a movie house, and a matching multi-level parking gargage.

Key word Parking Garage!

By: richgoose on 4/5/10 at 10:37

TITAN1.....I always applaud your blind loyalty to the Titans, I would however ask you to keep your comments out of matters that require more intellectual capacity than you seem to offer.

By: JeffF on 4/5/10 at 11:08

New stadium = Good Idea
New Downtown Stadium = More of the same idiotic economic handouts to a "neighborhood" incapable of supporting itself

Put the stadium somewhere it can be used by its primary customer base. Planners sit around trying to find ways to convince families to come to downtown then create an environment that goes against them. Traffic, parking costs, distance to parking, and neighborhood environment are all setup for young singles interested in downing a few beers, catching a band after the game, and hitting up some baseball skanks. This is fun for them but is something most parents do not want to repeatedly navigate with their children in tow.

Let the downtown crowd keep the Preds and the honky tonks in downtown, but please let the rest of Nashville keep the family entertainment of minor league baseball where it is accessible and affordable. I have been to Round Rock and Memphis. One of them has the better business plan, and it is not the one being used for urban renewal.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 4/5/10 at 11:16

build the stadium at the Fairgrounds. easy access from I-440 and I-65. no parking issues.

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 11:24

frank/richgoose, I'll give my opinion on anything I want and I won't ask you first. Someone has to call out those of you who whine about EVERYTHING! FYI, there are trucks you can rent that will take you and your belongings to Mayberry! You aren't good enough for Nashville! For me, I love LOVE Nashville and Middle Tennessee!

By: BigPapa on 4/5/10 at 11:34

Titan1 has no brain. It's just "Go Titans!!!" regarless of who or what the team does, how they behave, or what managment decides. If it's blue, he's cheering.
Dude, concern about how your (tax) money is spent IS NOT WHINING, it's a legit concern. Esp in a city that is laying off employees, and had budget cuts in each dept every year for the past 3 years.

Its easy to be brainless and be "for" everything, but some times the adults have to ask how that stuff is going to be paid for and by who.

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 12:16

"Dude" now that's original. I will now break down your little whine. First of all, this has nothing to do with the Titans, but since YOU brought it up, it was YOU and frankbrown who at one time said it didn't matter what Pacman did off the field. As for Titans management, I don't sit and whine because they know more about the team than all of us put together! But, remember, dude, this is not about the Titans. Tax dollars are used for many different things as well it should be. I for one have no problem with some of my tax dollars going to sports facilities and convention centers because it helps the economy and provides more entertainment. People on this very MB complained about money going to the MCC and said it should go for education when one has nothing to do with the other. Then when we become one of only two cities that get almost the same amount of money for "The Race to the Top" as what the MCC is going to cost, you same crybabbies whine about that! You don't have to like EVERYTHING, but you don't have to hate everything either.

By: BigPapa on 4/5/10 at 12:26

You don't see a city spending millions on a convention center and sports and at the same time cutting it's depts and laying people off as having anything to do with one another?

Look around LP field, see a lot of job creation there? It's a wasteland.

I was just pointing out that typically "yeah! let's go Titans!!" Is about as deep a level of analysis and understanding you go when it comes to fball .

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 12:40

BP, you are just like some others around here. If it does not go directly in your pocket, you are against it! This is your motto, "Someone else is getting something that I'm not!" The Titans and Preds being here have been GREAT for Nashville and Middle Tennessee BTW, you go to Titans game or at least you used to, so that would make you a huge hypocrite! You don't know if the MCC will bring in more revenue or not, but because the glass is always half empty to you, you predict doom. It is a done deal and I will be positive about it and hope for the best instead of drowning in a pity pool.

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 12:44

Another thing BP, are WE really spending millions on a convention center out of our pocket? The ONLY ones I have heard say that are you whiners that love to PREDICT doom and failure.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 4/5/10 at 1:20

Titan, let them drink tea.


By: JeffF on 4/5/10 at 1:38

I did not realize that the only way to "love Nashville" was to make sure every item on downtown's wish list gets built? I love Nashville and would like to see all of Nashville get included in this discretionary spending boom, not just the area closest to Tootsies.

Downtown has gotten all the logic-defying spending it deserves (probably in excess), time to spend money in the places the majority of people actually live and work. Judging by the wasteland around LP Field and the remorse around the paid-for convention facility, downtown doesn't know what to do with any new money anyway.

Build this stadium in an area all of Nashville can enjoy and easily get to. Build it outside the castle walls of the downtown overlords.

By: BigPapa on 4/5/10 at 1:45

I'll save the Titans chat for sports, but I'll summarize to say that I am a fan, but that doesn't mean I have to love everything they do, or every personnel move they make (or dont make.)

Same with Nashville. I love Nashville but when I talk to all my friends that have moved to the doughnut counties around us then never say they miss living in a town w/ pro sports. they move because they want safe neighborhoods, nice parks, safe schools for their children.

By: AmyLiorate on 4/5/10 at 2:33

Let Producer2 put up the money. They didn't have to put any out for the MCC, so spread that wealth Producer!!

By: JeffF on 4/5/10 at 2:46

Producer does not appear to read articles on topics related to items not putting money in his pocket.

the last time this beast reared its ugly head there were a couple of Sounds employees on here taunting us naysayers as haven already lost. I believe it was Llamafan and Furrybaseball who would flail is with "Play Ball!" and descriptions of what they would be doing on opening day in 2009. Once their Sounds screwed up that deal they lost their team jobs or were fired by MP&F and left town. I imagine Furrybaseball has since moved back to the economic third world (Michigan, Ohio, or Upstate New York) and proposes that baseball solve all the problems of 7 of the 10 most miserable cities.

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 3:27

Jeff can you lead your little parade to Mayberry? I'm sure your peeps will follow you. You seem very paranoid about downtown.

By: JeffF on 4/5/10 at 4:06

You afraid downtown will be denied something Titan? It is way passed time that someone cared about somewhere else other than the least populated area of Nashville. I love all of Nashville, why don't you?

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 5:53

If they put the ball park anywhere but downtown, the people around it that don't like baseball will whine about it. Downtown is perfect spot and if there was property available next to LP Field that would be a good second choice. JMO, but then I am a pretty positive guy.

By: richgoose on 4/5/10 at 7:09

Titan1.......Think back to your school days. Think about how you always had to wait until the teacher explained every situation to you in order for you to understand. Then you will understand why you are a positive guy. You in most cases don't know any better.

I would bet that you are a nice guy who makes a good loyal employee. You are a credit to decency I am sure. It is the thinking part that baffles you in life.

By: TITAN1 on 4/5/10 at 8:15

frank, you really are a headcase. You try to come off like you are smart and wealthy when in reality you are just a chronic complainer. I have lived here all my 55 years and I don't need some sad, pathetic, negative complainer like you telling me what I should like or not like You and some others here whine about EVERYTHING! Then anyone who dares to disagree with you, you think they can't think for themselves, when it is really just the opposite. BTW, why did you let someone that goes by the name of "The real frank brown" make you change your screen name?

By: richgoose on 4/5/10 at 10:31

Titan1................I would like for you to explain how living here 55 years gives you added intectectual prowess?

On second thought,unless it is humorous just forget it.

By: MusicCity615 on 4/5/10 at 11:11

Some ppl here are so ignorant.

Titan1. Thank you for the good points. I agree with you.

For those of you who say the Titans stadium is a wasteland? Every NFL stadium has to have parking around it to survive. Did you expect it to be surrounded by skyscrapers? Besides, we are about to invest $30 Million dollars into our riverfront and an Adventure Play Park on the East Bank next to the Titans stadium.

Weird, I'm sure everyone here whined when money was set aside for the RiverFront development.

By: TITAN1 on 4/6/10 at 5:14

frank, I'm just pointing out how much I love where I live. If you are negative all the time like some of you it shows that you are miserable. You can't enjoy life by complaining and whining all the time. I noticed you didn't answer my question, not surprised.

MusicCity615, there are many more positive people like you and me in Nashville and Middle Tennessee than there are chronic whiners. The "No" people thought they had the Oilers stadium deal voted down because they were the majority on the airwaves and in the press. But, when the votes were counted, we "Yes" people won by a better than 2-1 margin. Being a NFL city has been great! The NHL, while not as popular has also been good for Nashville and Middle Tennessee. No matter what BigPapa says, if you go to the Titans games or to anything that has some tax dollars supporting it, then complain about that government support, then you are a HYPOCRITE! I am proud that some of my money goes to sports venues as well as education, transportation, etc.

By: richgoose on 4/6/10 at 6:03

Titan1, I have no idea what question you are talking about. There is not a negative bone in my body. If you call reality and fiscal responsibility negative it is because you perhaps cannot see the big picture.

Who the heck is "Real Frank Brown"?

By: TITAN1 on 4/6/10 at 8:23

Selective memory, eh frank?

By: musiccityfan on 4/6/10 at 9:15

Yes, I'm also a little confused as to what this "wasteland" around LP Field is that people keep disparaging. Is that a reference to the parking lots around the stadium? And then another big complaint appears to be that there isn't enough parking for downtown events? Seems inconsistent. The Titans have sold out every home game they've ever played in their downtown stadium. Now I realize that NFL football and minor league baseball are vastly different investments from an economic standpoint, but, regardless of your position on a new Sounds stadium downtown, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to attack the Titans' approach as some sort of model for failure.

By: Kosh III on 4/6/10 at 10:25

Parking at LP?
Who will park there and walk the distance, in the dark, to the Symphony and back or to the Preds?

By: TITAN1 on 4/6/10 at 11:11

I tailgated downtown for years and walked over to the stadium. I didn't mind. In fact so did hundreds or thousands of others and they still do, I didn't hear any complaining. Same difference, just going the other way. I now tailgate on the east side but walk just about as far as I did when I was downtown.

By: Vuenbelvue on 4/6/10 at 3:10

Why does the public always want to pay the bills. The owner of the Brewers has a very high net worth and his investment in the Brewers has been solid. If he is looking for a nicer park for his future players all he needs to do is pull out a checkbook. There probably is no one in living in Nashville with a higher net worth.
Milwaukee Brewers – Mark Attanasio

Mark Attanasio is a former investor banker who partnered with money management firms like TCW, Crescent Mezzanine, and Trust Company of the West. Attanasio purchased the Brewers back in 2004 for $180 million. The team has reportedly doubled its value from the purchase just five seasons ago. That one investment is now worth $360 million.

Say no to public funding.