Location of old Sulpher Dell ballpark chosen for new $80 million project
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s administration has presented state officials with plans to build an $80 million ballpark development for the Nashville Sounds on the old Sulphur Dell site, reigniting a push that once appeared dead.
The preliminary goal is to have the $40 million ballpark plus a $10 million Metro-financed parking garage constructed in time for the Sounds’ 2015 opening day, according to a “Sulphur Dell Redevelopment” document obtained by The Tennessean. The project, which includes a residential development built with at least $30 million in private funds, would be on Jackson Street north of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall between Fifth and Third avenues.
Sulphur Dell is the original home of professional baseball in Nashville, and minor league and Negro league teams played there dating back to the 1860s. The last professional game was played in 1963, and the ballpark was demolished in 1969.
Dean’s office could unveil the proposal as early as Sept. 12 at a state building commission meeting. The central component of the deal is 13 acres of state-owned property, and the commission would have to approve the land transfer. The deal also includes the acquisition of seven acres of private land.
The state land currently consists of vacant lots and some state employee parking. According to a page in the document labeled “Transaction,” the state would convey the property in return formultiyear use of the new garage at no cost.
The city-built garage would have between 500 and 750 spaces, according to the document, and would be available for use by state employees.
“We are waiting and hoping the state and the city can work out the land acquisition so the stadium can be built,” Sounds attorney John Triggs said.
Other details of the financing arrangement, including how much money would come out of taxpayers’ pockets, were not included in the document, which is dated August 2013.
A statement from Sounds general manager Brad Tammen said, “From the Sounds’ perspective, we can only reiterate at this time that we are very excited about the possibilities in Sulphur Dell. However, this entire undertaking is a work in progress and we will wait to see if the city and the state can come to an understanding. Hopefully that will happen and when it does, we very much want to be a partner in the building of a new stadium for Nashville. We believe Sulphur Dell is the next Gulch.”
Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said it should come as no surprise that Dean would love to locate a ballpark at Sulphur Dell, which he has mentioned in the past. She said the city has had productive conversations with state officials about the possibility of acquiring the land.
“We’ve also had good conversations with the Sounds,” she said. “But this is still a work in progress. As Mayor Dean has said, a new baseball stadium needs to be a public-private partnership that makes sense for Nashville taxpayers.”
Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokesman, Dave Smith, confirmed that Metro had presented preliminary plans to state officials.
“(Metro) has come to us with some ideas,” Smith said. “They’re initial, interesting ideas, but there’s no official proposal yet.”
Riverfront deal fell through in 2007
The city and the Sounds have a spotty history of ballpark negotiations. At one point in 2007, plans were in place for a new ballpark on the downtown riverfront. But that deal, which was struck by Mayor Bill Purcell’s administration, fell apart, with the developer and former Sounds ownership blaming each other.
Since 2008, the Sounds have been owned by New York-based MFP Baseball, led by CEO Frank Ward. Last year, Ward rejected rumors that he and his partners were seeking to sell the team, which serves as the Triple A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers.
In November 2011, Populous Inc., a sports architecture firm, identified three preferred sites for a new Sounds stadium: Sulphur Dell, the east bank of the Cumberland River and the North Gulch area. Talks between the Sounds and the city stalled for more than a year after the city-funded study’s release, but discussions picked up recently, multiple sources told The Tennessean.
The failed riverfront deal included tax increment financing, which would have reduced the overall cost to the developer. Dean has said repeatedly that the Sounds would have to put their skin in the game to finance any ballpark deal.
The document includes an ambitious but tentative timeline that would see Metro Council approve the project in November so construction could begin next year. If things go according to the schedule, the ballpark would open months before Dean’s second term as mayor comes to an end.
The document also makes reference to a new Tennessee State Museum site and new locations for the state library and archives facility, both of which appear on a map along Bicentennial Mall. The existing museum is at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The state building commission approved $475,000 this month to jump-start planning for the new museum.
Earlier this year, Metro extended the Sounds’ lease for the team’s use of the city-owned, aging Greer Stadium through 2016.
Original story posted in the Tennesseean. Contact Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tnnaterau. Contact Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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