Op-ed: Governor Lee’s Titans investment

Story by Will Chappell

I’d like to ask Governor Lee if there really isn’t somewhere better he can think of to spend our tax dollars?

Earlier this week, Governor Bill Lee took a break from his push to reform school funding to weigh in on an issue of the utmost import: the Tennessee Titans stadium situation. Lee said he had met with the Titans, and “we’re willing to work on it.”

As a longtime resident of Nashville, I am a fan of the Titans. The Music City Miracle is one of my first NFL memories, and I’ve enjoyed the team for the past twenty years. The organization is a strong asset for the city, and I would hate to lose it.

The prospect of a new stadium is also exciting. The current stadium was opened in 1999 and enjoys beautiful views of downtown Nashville, but the facilities are severely lacking. When the Titans completed their assessment of necessary renovations earlier, the estimated bill came in at an eye-watering $1.2 billion, quickly leading the team to look at a new stadium as the logical alternative.

I’m all for a new stadium. A domed venue could bring events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four to Nashville. It would also serve as a fitting centerpiece to the River North redevelopment plan that aims to revitalize the East Bank of the Cumberland, starting with the construction of Oracle’s new headquarters.

But I don’t think that the state should involve itself in funding a new stadium. Experience and research have shown that investing in venues that are used at most 15-20 times a year is not a recipe for strong returns. That is why Nashville Mayor John Cooper said that the city would not be interested in financing a new stadium but would be working with the Titans to keep their valuable downtown location.

What makes Governor Lee’s desire to fund the Titans’ stadium frustrating is not the lack of precedent— it is the dearth of funding for other projects. I have bemoaned the state of education in Tennessee before, but the state faces many other issues, including a large number of problems specifically facing the Middle Tennessee region that a stadium would ostensibly help. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual report points to a lack of affordable childcare, transportation investment and affordable housing as major hurdles to the region’s long-term success. After the pandemic forced the shut down of nearly half of childcare centers in Tennessee in 2020, parents are struggling to find care options and are being forced out of the workforce as a result. The median price of a house in Nashville has risen by a quarter over the last year, while inventory has been cut in half. The lack of state funding for transportation projects in the region threatens access to federal matching funds and our budget for highway renovations lags 15 metro areas of comparable size, despite the lackluster state of our roads.

With so many places to dispense the state’s limited funds and so little willingness to do so, it is disappointing that Lee wants to help subsidize the construction of a professional football stadium. The Titans draw in more than a quarter of a billion dollars a year in revenue from the NFL every year, and the franchise is estimated to be worth $2.6 billion. They seem ready and able to finance a new stadium on their own.

But history and Governor Lee suggest they won’t have to. Other than Stan Kroenke’s self-financed mega stadium in Inglewood, California, all of the recent waves of new stadiums have been built with some level of public investment.

There is the looming risk that the team could try to depart for greener pastures, as happened to San Diego and Oakland when they failed to come to terms with public contributions to new stadiums. But after the most recent round of musical chairs, there is no clear destination left wanting a football team and the Titans seem committed to staying in Nashville.

Since that’s the case, I’d like to ask Governor Lee if there really isn’t somewhere better he can think of to spend our tax dollars?

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