Nashville Sounds owners are zeroing in on the east bank of the Cumberland River as their preferred site for a new ballpark, and downplaying the prospects of two other locations, following the Thursday release of a stadium site evaluation study.
Sites identified are: the east bank of the Cumberland, near LP Field and PSC Metals Inc., a sprawling metals scrap plant; an area northeast of the Tennessee State Capitol building that served as home to Sulphur Dell, Nashville’s long-demolished original baseball stadium; and the north Gulch area near 11th and Charlotte avenues.
Following the release of the report — which Mayor Karl Dean has called a necessary initial phase in weighing whether to build a new downtown ballpark — the Sounds ownership team, MFP, immediately began rallying behind the east bank for a new stadium, and distancing themselves from the other identified locations. They’ve pushed for a new ballpark since buying the team in 2008.
“The possibility of a site on the east bank of the river is clearly the site that has the most interest by the Sounds,” said Sounds attorney and lobbyist Tom White, adding that the Sounds must now look at financing possibilities, with help from Metro, for a new ballpark to replace outdated Greer Stadium.
“There is extremely limited interest by the Sounds in the other two sites,” White added.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling told The City Paper Wednesday the report is a “first step” toward a new stadium, but pointed out financing and an agreement with the Sounds could be far down the road. Dean’s administration still hasn’t fully committed to the project.
“I’m sure every site has unique issues that will have to be worked through,” Riebeling said. “It’s a long process from here, but this is a good first step.”
Dean, who has expressed interest in reviving baseball at Sulphur Dell, said the three locations are “all good sites” that should be further explored, provided it “makes sense financially.” Still, he seemed to give new credence to the east bank, calling it “really intriguing.”
“It’s a game-changer,” Dean said in an interview, referencing the PSC Metals scrap plant. “If you just take baseball out of the equation for a minute, and you think about those 80 acres and opening it up to a higher use, and having that be the front door of our city. It’s pretty exciting.
Dean cited “a couple of scenarios” for an east bank ballpark, one contingent on relocating PSC Metals elsewhere. The other option would be placing the stadium on Metro-owned land closer to LP Field, presumably on the field’s existing parking. Dean said Metro has had “conversations direct and indirect” with property owners near PSC.
“It is a home run –– to make a bad pun –– to locate the stadium there,” said Adam Liff, whose family owns approximately 25 acres of east bank land, a portion where PSC Metals sits.
“It’s not a question of if it gets redeveloped, it’s a question of when,” Liff said. “From PSC Metals’ standpoint, they’re going to see that this is an opportunity to be able to relocate, doing so with community support in a public-private partnership."
Privately, the Sounds upper brass is concerned about Sulphur Dell and the north Gulch’s far distance from Lower Broadway, the heart of downtown Nashville’s commercial district. But fans visiting a stadium on the east bank could presumably cross the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge to access the bars and restaurants on Broadway.
“We are especially excited about possible sites for a new stadium on the east bank,” Sounds owner Frank Ward said in a statement. “While there are other attractive sites, none offer as many plusses — ease of access, ready parking and proximity to downtown are just a few.
“The Sounds would be delighted to be part of Metro’s bold plan to develop and upgrade a significant piece of riverfront property,” he said.
In a conference call with media, Bruce Miller, a principal of Populous, discussed the site feasibility study, which initiated over the summer. He said the group opted against recommending one final site because of complexities with acquiring some of the properties.
The report suggests a new minor league baseball stadium would create $53.4 million in total economic output, 382 full-time equivalent jobs and $19.7 million in labor income.
Though he didn’t discuss financing mechanisms, he said it would need to have a public-private component. Miller said he spoke to some of the landowners during the process, but never approached the topic of acquisition.
Miller said all three sites “could create a great experience for minor league baseball in Nashville,” but highlighted the east bank above others. Discussing the east bank, Miller said his team of consultants analyzed land that stretches from Shelby Street bridge to the nearby interstate, near PSC Metals.
“An especially interesting site, we think is the east bank,” Miller said, noting nearby LP Field’s existing parking and proximity to the pedestrian bridge. “It has the potential to really have impact long-term on the growth of Nashville. That makes it a very intriguing place.”
For years, the owners of Nashville’s triple-A franchise have coveted the 11-acre former thermal plant location for a stadium, where a previous deal for a stadium fell apart during then-Mayor Bill Purcell’s administration. Dean has talked openly about an outdoor amphitheater being built there.
Miller, of Populous, said there are better uses for the old thermal plant site than a ballpark — even though his same company studied this location for a stadium during Purcell’s tenure.
“A lot has changed in Nashville since it was originally selected by the Sounds,” Miller said. “We think the land value, the demand for public open space, and the size of the site ... really makes it an underutilization of that site at this point in time.
“We just really don’t see that the ballpark on the thermal plant would have that same impact as one of three other potential sites,” he said.
White, the Sounds lobbyist, said his client would have been disappointed with the former thermal site’s elimination if the report had not recommended the east bank. He said the Sounds are pleased a river location is highlighted.
The study says the north Gulch site — believed to be near the temporary Greyhound bus station — offers development opportunities on a “neighborhood scale.” A new stadium here would “build off the energy of the Gulch development,” the report reads.
A new stadium on former Sulphur Dell property, the analysis says, would create “a unique fit for a ballpark, looking back at the downtown skyline.” A ballpark there could also tie into the adjacent Bicentennial Mall, the study says. Another plus is its proximity to the Germantown area, according to the report.
The Sulphur Dell location has generated considerable stadium buzz over the past year, with a group called “Friends of Sulphur Dell” pushing for a new stadium there. The Sounds, however, say they have limited interest in Sulphur Dell.
“It is the only site that will have immediate, positive economic impact on not only the Germantown area, but the city as a whole,” said At-large Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard, who supports a stadium at Sulphur Dell. “It will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
“The Sounds ownership cannot look at what’s in the best interest of the Sounds,” Maynard said. “The Sounds ownership must also consider what’s in the best interest of all of Davidson County.”