Cardboard cutouts of fans and celebrities, including singer Tim McGraw, are placed in seats at mostly empty Nissan Stadium. Titans officials have limited spectators at home games to a small number of ticket owners. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The Tennessee Titans would be negatively impacted by several provisions of the proposed Metro charter amendment, scheduled to be in front of voters on July 27, according to a legal filing by a business group seeking to halt the referendum.
The Titans would stand “to lose potentially in the millions of dollars” should the referendum go forward and be passed by voters. The Titans play at Nissan Stadium and have a lease agreement with the Metro Sports Authority, which acts as the landlord.
Jim Roberts, the lead organizer and attorney for 4 Good Government, the group pushing for the referendum, has previously been involved in lawsuits seeking to block the new soccer stadium project at the fairgrounds. Those lawsuits failed, and construction for the soccer stadium is underway.
According to the amended complaint filed by the Nashville Business Coalition on May 28, the Titans are one of the Nashville Business Coalition members that would suffer from the proposed referendum. The Nashville Business Coalition accuses the Davidson County Election Commission of failing to follow the law related to such petition-driven referendums. The charter amendments proposed by the referendum are unconstitutional, according to legal filings by the Nashville Business Coalition’s attorney Jamie Hollin.
“Certain of the rights and interests of the Tennessee Titans, of pertinent note, are directly, or at the very least, materially adverse to the interests being asserted by the Commission — both in its decisions made prior to the filing of this action and in the positions taken by its counsel in this lawsuit itself, all to the Tennessee Titans’ harm and damage,” the Nashville Business Coalition claims in its filings.
One proposed amendment to the charter would require a public referendum for approval of any transfer of property valued at more than $5 million and for leases exceeding 20 years.
The Nashville Predators have a long-term lease at Bridgestone Arena, and in order to lure NASCAR to the fairgrounds racetrack, Bristol Motor Speedway is pursuing a long-term lease with the city as well. Those are the kinds of agreements that would be subject to voter approval if the charter amendment proposals are approved by voters next month.
Another amendment proposal says that if a professional sports team leaves Nashville or ceases playing at its stadium for 24 consecutive months, all sports facilities and related ancillary development revert to public property, and all related contracts would be terminated.
In a YouTube video, Roberts explained his objective regarding those two provisions. Regarding the provision requiring voter approval of property transfers, Roberts said that over the years, Metro has given away “millions of dollars if not tens of millions of dollars in public lands to developers and out of state interests.”
“These are our lands. They’re our parks, they’re our public lands, they’re greenways. And they shouldn’t be given away for free,” Roberts said.
He added that the amendment related to professional sports venues is meant to protect taxpayers’ investments.
“Nashvillians love their sports, and we have given them millions of dollars in taxpayer incentives to bring those teams here,” Roberts said. “Well what happens when they leave? Well, amendment six is going to make it where we get our stadiums back, our fields back and our arenas back, and all of that investment that we made in the team. We can’t guarantee the teams will stay, but we can guarantee we get our property back. And those stadiums, and arenas and fields, they can be used for other teams and other uses.”
The passage of those provisions would subject Cumberland Stadium, a Titans subsidiary, to “liability and damages” for breach of its agreements with the city. Nissan Stadium is already owned by taxpayers, making it unclear what “revert to the public” would effectively mean.
“These are not results that Cumberland Stadium bargained for when it entered into these agreements, and the agreements will thus be fundamentally and unconstitutionally impaired by the passage of the (amendments),” the Nashville Business Coalition claimed in its lawsuit.
The case is set to go to court next month, but Metro has also sued to block the referendum from taking place. The initial hearing in that lawsuit took place on Monday and the case is now awaiting a ruling from Chancellor Russell Perkins.
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