After slashing the council, lawmakers will have to decide if they want to run Nashville

The new Titans stadium could end up in the crosshairs of political fight over the Nashville’s sports authority

By: - March 13, 2023 6:00 am
Members of the Tennessee House of Representatives greeting each other on opening day of session. Jan. 9, 2023.(Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee state lawmakers approved $500 million for the new stadium in April 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

State Republicans cut the size of the Metro Nashville Council in half last week, kicking off a process that should reveal how serious lawmakers are about taking over various aspects of the city’s government. 

GOP state lawmakers passed, and Gov. Bill Lee signed, the legislation into law Thursday, with metro officials expected to file a lawsuit challenging it in the coming days. 

The legislation—which reduces the size of the council from 40 to 20—comes after years of fighting between the Democratic-led city and Republican-led state as part of an ever-escalating race over control of Nashville. The latest triggers involved Republicans dividing up Nashville districts to flip the previously Democratic-held U.S. Congressional seat and the Metro Council blocking the 2024 Republican National Convention. 

I think there are very clear negative consequences that come from some of those pieces of legislation. I don't expect all of them to come through, but that's assuming some baseline of good sense that I want to believe will win the day.

– Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville

Republican lawmakers will have to decide in the coming weeks whether to move forward with a slate of bills to take over the city’s sports authority and airport board, take charge of regulating alcohol on Lower Broadway, and preempt several laws impacting policing, elections and development. 

The sports authority is a Metro Nashville government body, appointed by the mayor and tasked with acquiring, improving, repairing, operating and maintaining the professional sports stadiums in the city.

“I think there are very clear negative consequences that come from some of those pieces of legislation,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville — who is also running for Nashville mayor — said. “I don’t expect all of them to come through, but that’s assuming some baseline of good sense that I want to believe will win the day. But who knows.”

It’s unclear what bills will go forward and whether more legislation targeting Nashville will pop up as lawmakers begin their mad dash toward the end of this year’s legislative session.

Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, said it originally appeared Republicans would shelve the airport and sports authority for the year, but both passed through a Senate committee earlier in the week.

“I don’t believe they are trying to negotiate in good faith,” she added. 

Sports Authority could test the Metro Nashville Council’s willingness to fight back

Weighing over much of the legislation is how the Metro Council will respond to its size reduction. Republican leaders have said the business community supported the cut among other legislation.

But Democrats and city officials have warned targeting various bond boards that oversee sport stadiums, the airport and the convention center could “destabilize” a steady business environment. 

The deal for a new NFL stadium in Nashville was on particular mind during a debate regarding the sports authority bill earlier this week. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, says he's seen a recent rise in the population of homeless individuals in his community. (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, said the state’s contribution to the stadium project was why he sponsored a bill that’d give the governor and lawmakers the ability to appoint 10 of the 13 seats on a new sports authority board. 

“I think the state should have some say relative to the sports authority,” Bailey added. 

Last year state and metro leaders worked together to craft a $2.1 billion agreement for a new Titans stadium, with the state chipping in $500 million and Metro Nashville $760 million.

Lee and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, played pivotal roles in securing state funds and strongly advocated for the stadium during last year’s legislative session. While, Nashville Mayor John Cooper largely sidelined the Metro Council, when negotiating metros contribution.

The deal is rounding the corner, with the Metro Nashville Council’s final approval vote set to happen in mid-April, but a change at the sports authority could impact it.

“I’m concerned about institutional knowledge as we are in the middle of negotiating a deal with the Tennessee Titans,” Oliver said to Bailey in a Senate committee debating the bill. “Are you aware that this bill could jeopardize that deal and the finances that go with that?”

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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.