NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Some Nashville investors and supporters are making a push for Music City to be among the communities awarded expansion franchises by Major League Soccer.
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Bill Hagerty, a former state commissioner of economic and community development, and Will Alexander, the son of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, are spearheading the effort called the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee. It includes a bipartisan group of former politicians and leaders of Nashville-area companies.
“Music City’s diverse and growing population, vibrant economy and passionate sports culture make it an ideal fit for the MLS,” Hagerty said.
While Nashville is seeking to leapfrog several other cities vying for MLS teams, Hagerty said his experience with landing major economic development projects like Under Armour and Beretta gives him hope. The sports apparel maker and the firearms manufacturer didn’t originally expect to locate facilities in the Nashville area, Hagerty said.
“We were at the bottom of the list and we were able to get in and make it happen,” he said. “So we’re accustomed to pulling our resources together in short order and demonstrating our strength.”
The Nashville proposal would include a downtown stadium, likely with some public financing.
“The stronger the role the city plays, the more competitive we are in winning a franchise,” Hagerty said. “I think the city is prepared to be a very strong partner.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry called the MLS expansion push “an exciting opportunity to build on our successes and plan for Nashville’s future as a soccer destination for the Southeast.”
The mayor’s long-range capital improvement plan includes $50 million in proposed revenue bonds for a potential municipal soccer facility, but Barry has not made a formal request to the Metro Council to move the project forward.
The organizing committee includes the heads of Bridgestone Americas and Nissan North America, both of which are based in the Nashville area. Hagerty noted that the tiremaker is heavily involved in sports sponsorship around the world and that the automaker has been a major sponsor of the European Champions League and the Manchester City Football Club.
Retired Tennessee politicians supporting the effort include former Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who led efforts to draw the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and NHL’s Nashville Predators to the city in the 1990s. The presidents of both teams are also on the MLS committee.
“Soccer is growing in popularity in our country and it would be good for Nashville to be a part of it with a major league team,” Bredesen said in an email. “Many of the organizations whose CEOs have lent their support to this current effort were very helpful to me twenty years ago and I believe it appropriate for me to return the favor here in 2016.”
Hagerty said MLS is expected to release an expansion timeline in the next several weeks. Other cities vying for teams include St. Louis; Sacramento, California; Detroit; San Diego; San Antonio and Austin, Texas; and Cincinnati.