Will a New Stadium be a Threat?

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Unless you live in one of the counties surrounding Nashville, you may be completely unaware of a development that will have a direct effect on the NTT IndyCar Series. Some will probably welcome this potential news, while others will not.

A couple of years ago, the Tennessee Titans announced major renovations they had planned for Nissan Stadium. After the bids came in, with quotes on how much those upgrades were going to cost; the proposals were so unexpectedly high, the Titans and city officials reasoned that it may be more cost-effective to simply build a new stadium from scratch.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper seemed all in favor at first, but about a month ago – he did an about-face. He is a typical politician that simply reacts to whichever way the political winds are blowing. Cooper and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee have polar opposite political views, and have tangled directly, more than once. Earlier this week, Lee committed $500 Million of state funding toward a new stadium, but with a catch – the stadium must be an enclosed stadium, in order to host a wider range of events. While that amount will cover a portion of the cost of a new stadium, an enclosed facility could cost close to $2 Billion.

After the new stadium talk had been put on the back burner a few weeks ago, it is suddenly front-and-center again with the $500 Million commitment from the state. Of course, the ultimate goal is to bring a Super Bowl to Music City, as well as a Final Four, College Football Championship Game, massive concerts and other indoor events. What’s odd is that in all of the conversations I’ve heard on the radio or read in print, not one single person has asked how this will affect the Music City Grand Prix.

Keep in mind, this project is still in the talking stages – but I think it will happen. Given the fact it is still in the early phase, I have an idea that it will be probably two to three years before a single shovel turns. A stadium usually takes two to three years to build, so we may be talking 2028 or later before a new stadium opens. But once construction starts, what will happen to the Music City Grand Prix?

Most say that the most logical place to put the new stadium is in the parking lot just east of the current stadium. That is where the paddock was for last year’s inaugural Grand Prix. Portions of the track surround that parking lot, so there would probably be construction going on there early on. If the plan is to have a stadium ready in fall of 2028, the existing stadium would probably be blown up and demolished at the end of the 2027 season. As if things would not have been a mess already, that will certainly create chaos in the area that serves as part of the track, paddock and pits.

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The 2021 Music City Grand Prix was the first of a three-year contract; but I know the city and IndyCar want the event to continue long beyond 2023. The racing in 2021 was not good, to be honest – but the event was fantastic! Most of the problem with the racing, was the area around the stadium. It was just too tight and too confined. The area across the bridge could use some tweaking also, but the bulk of the problems happened in the portion just in front of Nissan Stadium.

I think most would agree that the best part of the temporary layout is the part that crosses over the bridge over the Cumberland River – twice. It is the signature portion of the track and also set up the rare passing zones on the course.

Of course, there is another thought that the proposed stadium may go to the south of Korean Veterans Blvd, the street that crosses the bridge. That is currently private property owned by PSC Metals, and it is a huge eyesore. Ever since the Titans began playing in Nissan Stadium in 1999, it has always been a point of contention for fans in the west stands to look to their right and see mountains of scrap metal in what should be a “Chamber of Commerce” view. There has been talk of the Titans and/or the city purchasing that property, but PSC does not want to sell. With that being the designated site of the new proposed stadium, perhaps they could be persuaded to sell. Everyone has a price.

In my opinion, this would be the better option. It would keep the current property relatively undisturbed while the new stadium is being built. Once the new facility is complete and ready to host football games, shift everything – including the Music City Grand Prix – over to the new location and then carry out whatever demolitions plans there are.

Perhaps by then, the Music City Grand Prix will have established a foothold in the community and within the IndyCar paddock and fan base. Right now, I’m betting if you took a poll among fans that watched last year’s Music City Grand Prix on television – you would get a whole lot of ambivalence mixed in with fans who absolutely hated the race. I cannot really say what the paddock really thought of the race. Outwardly, they were saying the right things – but I have no idea what the true feelings among the drivers were. However, if you took a poll among the fans that attended the event, both local and out-of-towners – I’ll bet you’d get a much more favorable response.

The section of the course surrounding the parking lot just east of the stadium needs work. When it was first introduced, most fans looked at the course layout and thought it was way too tight for Indy cars. I don’t know what you can do with it, but surely some concrete barriers can be added, removed or repositioned to change some of the angles.

If a new stadium becomes reality sooner than later, hopefully the Music City Grand Prix will have enough momentum that a new course layout will be part of the overall planning of the new stadium. That would be a lot easier if the new stadium went on the PSC Metals site just south of the current stadium, rather than in the parking lot just to the east of the stadium, where the paddock was located last August.

There, track officials (and presumably Tony Cotman) could have almost a clean sheet of paper to design a much more race-friendly layout around the stadium section of the course. The back and forth over the bridge would be maintained, and maybe the section across the river could be tweaked or even expanded.

I have been a little disappointed that in all of the wild talk about a new stadium and the possibilities it could bring to Nashville, not a single person has expressed any concern on how this will affect the Music City Grand Prix. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. The vision of Super Bowl LVI from SoFi Stadium is still fresh in the minds of Titans fans – mainly because many fans are still hurting from the way the Titans bungled against the Bengals in the playoffs. SoFi Stadium was on full display and it made Nissan Stadium look like an ancient relic.

Although Nissan Stadium will only be twenty-three years-old this fall, there are only eleven stadiums in the NFL older than it is – and plans to replace some of them have already been announced. When Nissan Stadium opened in 1999; it was not considered state-of the-art, even at that time. It did not feature many of the bells and whistles of those opened up just before it in Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Baltimore. The current homes of the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders and the Chargers and Rams of Los Angeles would make any NFL fan jealous. Although it is now pushing fifteen years old, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis always impresses us and makes us envious, whenever Susan and I go up there to watch the Titans play the Colts. So I get it why Titans fans want a new stadium.

But unlike many locals in Nashville, I fear for what impact the construction of a new stadium will have on the Music City Grand Prix. Would it be possible for the race to vacate the grounds while a new stadium is under construction, and run the oval track at Nashville Superspeedway? That would not be ideal, but history tells us that if the race pauses for a couple of years for whatever reason, the likelihood of it coming back are slim.

The local climate has changed over the years for the Toronto IndyCar race. It has not run since 2019, but seems to be on schedule to return this summer. But to what kind of fan base? And that’s an event that dates back to 1986 at that location. If a thirty-five year event has trouble coming back from a layoff, how will the Music City Grand Prix fare after just two to three races?

Running the oval would at least keep the series and the drivers in the eye of the local race fans during that time, then the event could return downtown to a potentially much better layout than they left. I don’t know if running the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway is even feasible. I’m just thinking out loud here.

I feel certain that IndyCar officials are already looking at the possible scenarios, is such a situation arises. The talk had died down locally, until the Governor committed those funds last week. I now think a new enclosed stadium in Nashville will eventually happen. The only question is, when? Once that is known, hopefully a suitable long-term solution for the Music City Grand Prix can be found. Until then, stay tuned.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Will a New Stadium be a Threat?”

  1. With the popularity and subsequent growth of Nashville a new Stadium is inevitable. With 2 Billion Dollars or more projected a lot of folks will make money from this project . I am not a fan of State government funding Stadiums . Having never visited Nashville I assume there are plenty of local taxes such as sales tax and hotel room taxes already add funding for a new Stadium and I imagine an increase in those and some new ones as well. Looking at google earth it is a surprise that a junkyard is in a central part of the city . Immenant domain should handle the purchase of that property. However in my home town we had a similar situation and when the city purchased the land from a wealthy city elite it turned out to be full,of toxic waste and took years to clean it up as a superfund site

    It is a shame but I am not surprised there is little to no consideration of how a new stadium will effect a fledgling city IndyCar race . It would be nice o see any redevelopment plans take into consideration how to incorporate a street course around the new stadium as they did in Miami for upcoming F1 event.

    Good luck to you and the city

  2. SkipinSC Says:

    Public funding of stadiums is a bugaboo that seems to come up every time an owner decides his accommodations aren’t up to his expectations.

    As a Colts fan and former resident of Indianapolis, I can tell you that even in the heyday of Peyton Manning, there were many in town who opposed building Lucas Oil Stadium. Many there remember the Market Square Arena financing fiasco and, while they may be short sighted, had reason and sanity not prevailed, Jim Irsay might have moved the team elsewhere.

    In retrospect, Lucas Oil has been a huge boon for Indy, having hosted men’s and women’s Final Fours, a Super Bowl, and a variety of other events.

    Similarly, when IMS sought public funding for improvements to the Speedway, there were many who thought the City and County should “stiff” the Hulman/George family, (prior to Roger Penske’s purchase.)

    Point to my diatribe is this: Be careful what you wish for: Others may have conflicting agendas, practical or not.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Prior to the COVID cancellations, Toronto found a way to alter the track around construction challenges. Long Beach has done this as well a couple of times. The downtown Houston track is an example of a street course that was put into hiatus and did not return due to the construction of a new stadium.

    If the new stadium is built on the parking area next to the current one, that would likely put the Nashville race on hiatus unless an alternate street course could be found nearby. I wouldn’t bet on a return to Nashville Superspeedway (talk to SMI about it), but if Indycar did return… hey, there’s no PJ1 on it!

  4. David brought up the “possibility” concerning PSC….”
    …it turned out to be full,of toxic waste and took years to clean it up as a superfund site.” in my opinion, PSC is not just waiting on a price. it is waiting on complete and total exoneration of liability.

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