Mayor Dean’s Field of Dreams

Sameer Fraser

If you build it, he will come.  Mayor Karl Dean surely did not hear these words in his head akin to Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, but Dean certainly has a dream scenario in mind for the city of Nashville.  Fresh off $1 billion in investments—most notably the Music City Center, where the paint on the walls has yet to dry—Dean has moved ahead to his next big project.  The plan is for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds baseball team to relocate to a new 10,000 seat stadium at Sulphur Dell, an area once synonymous with America’s pastime.

This particular location serves as an intriguing spot for a prominent development such as this new ballpark.  It would provide an entertainment bridge to connect the Germantown and Salemtown neighborhoods to the downtown area.  On its surface, that may seem like a fantastic reason to move forward with the project, but, in reality, the location of the stadium serves as one of the primary reasons to give the deal more thoughtful consideration.  There is talk that the Nashville Sounds, the primary tenant of the new ballpark, has extremely limited interest in the Sulphur Dell site.

The Sounds’ lack of interest, some say, could be the reason behind the organization’s minimal contribution to the stadium.  Over the course of 30 years, the $65 million in city funds to build the stadium comes out to about $4.3 million in annual debt.  $700,000 of this will be covered by the Sounds’ payment to lease the stadium.  While the Sounds have committed to a retail project that will generate $750,000 a year in property tax revenue, there is no obligation for the organization to follow through with this proposal.  Apart from sales tax revenue that the stadium will generate, this leaves the lease as the only mandatory portion of the project that the Sounds are committed to paying.

Much like the Sounds, the Atlanta Braves have decided to move on from their home stadium Turner Field—a bastion for baseball in this region of the country over the last 16 years—in favor of a new ballpark.  The difference here is that the team is covering 55 percent of the costs.  Though some may claim that the vast difference in the Braves’ 55 percent contribution and the Sounds 16 percent contribution can be attributed to the extreme revenue differences between the two organizations, that argument does not hold.  Right here in the state of Tennessee, the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds are expected to cover more than 50 percent of costs in a new deal.

Though Dean has reiterated that the annual cost of the stadium to the city is minimal, almost half of the Sounds’ projected portion of the deal is not guaranteed.  While it is likely that the organization will go through with the retail project, the alternative must be considered.  Mayor Dean has stated that the ballpark is a luxury, not a necessity.  The growing number of conservatorships serves as one of Nashville’s necessities.  Reports show that the city is short of the resources that it needs to take care of some of Nashville’s poorest.  With this issue surely set to induce legislation that will require more city funds, Mayor Dean must carefully consider the costs of the baseball stadium.

The Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb County, many believe, boiled down to the three most important factors in evaluating property and real estate: location, location, location.  The Braves moved to a location where they could get funding (albeit a much smaller proportion than the Sounds are receiving) and a location that was more central to their season ticket holders.  Though the city of Nashville may have different reasons, the success of the new ballpark, economically, may also come down to location.  Should the city revisit other sites to incite more action from the Sounds organization at the risk of ruining Mayor Dean’s plans to unite Germantown and downtown?  Unfortunately, this represents only one of many questions surrounding the stadium deal.  Is the publicly funded stadium a good idea so soon following the construction of the Music City Center and related city-backed projects?  Will funds be available to cover the increasing number of conservatorships?  Will the new stadium produce a significant increase in revenue?  Can the city be certain that the annual cost of the stadium will be insignificant?  These questions must be given careful consideration before a deal is done—something Dean wants within the next month.  We’ve reached the bottom of the 9th on the deal for Nashville’s new baseball stadium, and Mayor Karl Dean is up to the plate.  The city of Nashville better hope he does not strike out.


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