Protect the community benefits agreement

As last year’s city election season turned into fall and now into a new year, the inability to move forward on building the soccer stadium is beginning to take its toll. When the city passed legislation approving the stadium financing in 2018, there was also a landmark consensual community benefits agreement between Nashville Soccer Holdings and Stand Up Nashville.

Months before Metro approved the stadium financing, team representatives met with many Council members. When they asked me what I thought was important, I talked mostly about three issues. The first two were that Metro’s cost to build the stadium had to be capped and the team had to commit to genuinely respect the historic racing and expo activities at the Fairgrounds.

The third issue was that I challenged them to look forward ten years to when groups from other cities would come to visit Nashville and learn from us. Would they be taken on just another generic stadium tour? Or would Nashville be able to show off an integrated live-work-play community with true economic and social diversity? I suggested that the real win would be in setting a precedent for a generation of smart, inclusive community development in Nashville.

Many others – but especially Stand Up Nashville and Nashville Soccer Holdings – worked hard to make this vision a reality. The community benefits agreement is a first in the State of Tennessee. It is a voluntary contract where Nashville Soccer Holdings agreed to make 20% of the housing affordable, including a commitment to provide badly needed three bedroom units. The team also agreed to directly hire stadium workers and pay them at least $15.50 per hour. They agreed to build an on-site childcare facility that will operate with sliding scale fees. These are just some of the team’s commitments in the comprehensive agreement.

Some will argue that these benefits are a small price for the team to pay to get the significant benefit of using the Fairgrounds for a stadium and substantial development. Perhaps, but on the other side of the ledger, Stand Up Nashville drove a hard bargain too with unprecedented benefits for workers and families in Nashville.

Nearly one and a half years after Metro approved the stadium financing, we can’t get to “yes.” Instead, the administration and the team seem to be mired in an extended renegotiation. What limited information is available in the media suggests they are talking about additional infrastructure costs, the planned mixed-use development next to the stadium, and possibly the racetrack. Beyond this, details are sketchy and there is no known timeline to begin stadium construction.

With this dynamic, I wonder who’s looking out for the community benefits agreement. Stand Up Nashville hasn’t been invited to the ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, the rule in a multi-party negotiation is that if you don’t know who’s losing, it’s probably you.

Dollars and cents are important in the soccer stadium deal. But we need to remember that working Nashvillians were one of the parties to the deal. Some of the value in the soccer stadium deal is supposed to go to the people of Nashville. The community benefits agreement requires this. Whatever final result comes together in the coming days or weeks, the community benefits agreement must be honored and protected.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.