Nashville is looking at up to $2 billion for a new football stadium – Tennessean

A new stadium in Nashville could cost up to $2 billion, if its peer venues are any indication.
The Tennessee Titans and Metro Nashville hit a bump in negotiations for Nissan Stadium’s renovation this month after new studies revealed the need for extensive infrastructure replacements. 
About $600 million in upgrades were initially on the table for the 23-year-old stadium, but officials now say the renovation would cost at least $1.2 billion. The project would include replacing the stadium’s concrete frame with steel and installing new windows along with new mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems.
The new price tag led Metro and Titans officials to consider another option: building a new stadium from scratch. Details on such a plan are slim and analysis is ongoing, but the idea has gained traction among some Metro officials. 
Financing would come, over the long term, from private investors who partner with Metro and Titans officials to complete a new entertainment district surrounded by park-dappled neighborhoods and riverfront activities. 
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Boosted sales and property taxes would be temporarily diverted to repay Metro infrastructure and public-amenity costs.
Metro Nashville, the stadium’s owner, plans to issue revenue bonds for its portion of up-front costs. Ultimately, those bonds would be repaid by future taxes from the new developments.
Metro executives have been negotiating an ambitious plan to extend downtown across the river with more than 400 acres of new development.
The county and its affiliates own 105 acres of east-bank riverfront that they plan to develop with investors willing to meet their larger vision of new neighborhoods near upscale entertainment and nightlife surrounded by a variety of transit options.
The stadium would be the center of a new downtown riverfront that aims to be as transformative as Chicago’s riverfront redevelopment.
“We look at this real estate and see it as absolutely precious,” Titans CEO Burke Nihil said. “On the other side of this area are some of the most diverse and dynamic neighborhoods. We feel a stewardship that this neighborhood becomes something celebrated for generations.”
Pause: Nissan Stadium renovations on ‘pause’ as Tennessee Titans, Metro consider building a new facility
The Titans are still evaluating whether to renovate Nissan Stadium or build a new stadium — and cost estimates for a new stadium will take time.
Metro owns land where a new stadium would be built, officials said. It’s currently used for parking lots A, B and C directly east of the stadium. 
Nashville is required to maintain a “first-class stadium,” according to the Titans lease agreement. Mayor John Cooper said that equates to “the median of the most recent half-dozen stadiums that have been built.”
The Tennessean reviewed characteristics of five of the most recently-built NFL stadiums in similarly-sized markets, with the exception of Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons are a large-market team, but the stadium is comparable in region. 
Comparable stadiums built in the last decade range in cost from $1 billion to $2 billion, with the most recent completed in 2020. Construction costs have swelled over the last two years.
One common factor in newer NFL stadiums: Each of these stadiums is enclosed, either featuring a retractable or transparent roof. The Titans’ $1.2 billion estimate for renovating the existing Nissan Stadium does not include the cost of adding a roof, retractable or otherwise.
State-of-the-art video boards are another standout theme of recent stadium builds. The $1.8 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium completed in 2017 sports a 58-foot-tall, 360 degree HD video screen.
The slightly smaller US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis features ribbon-style boards and 13 video boards, including two massive end zone displays measuring more than 8,100 square feet and 4,400 square feet, respectively. It was completed in 2016 for roughly $1.1 billion.
Top-notch upgrades drove up the cost of some stadiums. 
The Mercedes-Benz Stadium was initially expected to cost $1.5 billion, but delays and the stadium’s unique retractable roof reminiscent of a camera aperture drove up costs, according to reporting from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The additional costs were footed by Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
Allegiant Stadium’s estimated cost grew from $1.8 billion to $2.02 billion thanks to added upgrades including suites and end zone club space, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But the project finished in 2020 about $25 million under budget thanks to cost reductions in other areas. 
The luxe extras were paid for by revenue from the Raiders and personal seat license sales, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. In total, public funding accounted for about 38% of the $1.99 billion build.
Nashville isn’t the only city considering starting from scratch.
New York is pondering the future of 49-year-old Highmark Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills. The stadium would cost approximately $862 million to renovate, extending its life by another 10 to 15 years, according to a report from global stadium design firm AECOM released in November 2021.
The firm recommends instead building a new stadium that can last 30 years or more. The report estimates construction of a new open-air stadium at the current Orchard Park site would carry a roughly $1.4 billion price tag. If the team wants to move closer to downtown Buffalo, that cost would increase by at least $350 million, if not more. Adding a fixed roof would tack on another $298 million to the bill.
Nashville’s professional football stadium development helped kick off a historic era of growth, but the facility has not aged well. Extensive upgrades identified years ago have yet to be funded.
As the stadium’s landlord, the Metro Nashville Sports Authority is responsible for upkeep and renovations to keep it a “first-class” stadium that’s competitive with similar venues around the country.
Metro typically contributes $1 million a year to stadium maintenance, and ticket taxes also help cover annual costs.
But Titans officials are seeking higher annual payments to maintain a competitive venue that can host a wider range of events. 
The facility has endured a tornado, a flood, and years of local political upheaval delaying its prioritization.
In 2015, the stadium’s seats were replaced for $15 million because of widespread deterioration. 
A 2017 Metro study said it needed about $300 million worth of work on its plumbing, electrical, architectural and other systems.
That study also described the stadium’s architecture as uninspiring and cheap.
Serious renovation discussions restarted in early 2021 and Titans officials released renderings of a proposed new sleek, silvery facade, upscale lounges and a plaza.
Stadiums with premium seating areas, technology-facing experiences and other modernizations are crucial to a team’s financial success, according to industry analysts.
Nashville’s growth accelerated in recent years, but rapid urbanization has been underway for three decades induced by projects like the Bridgestone Arena, the stadium and the $623 million Music City Center.
At each stage, the community intensely debated the city’s cultural and political changes. 
Nissan Stadium was completed in August 1999 and seats up to 69,143 fans. 
The state contributed $55 million to the $290 million outdoor stadium. About $32 million in remaining debt on the current stadium is scheduled to be paid off by the end of the Titan’s lease with the Metro Sports Authority in 2027.
Cooper and the Titans hope to capitalize on the region’s ever-rising popularity with the next phase of downtown growth to fund a stadium overhaul without taxpayer funds.
“Part of my goal is to get this done without it being a burden on the general taxpayer,” Cooper said. “If you look at our current stadium, it’s perhaps a little bit less flexible than you would want.”
Nashville’s second major downtown investment in three years came during a time when future growth seemed like a gamble. Nashville Arena – now branded by Bridgestone – opened in 1996 without a team lessee.
The young Tennessee Titans hit their stride as soon as the team moved onto the new grass field, surrounded by a tiered bowl at 1 Titans Way, 23 years ago.
The red-and-blue football stadium, initially called Adelphia Coliseum, replaced a barge factory known for keeping large sand piles on its property. 
The Houston Oilers moved to Nashville in 1996 when negotiations for a new stadium there fell apart. Renamed the Titans, the team moved between venues in Memphis and Nashville until the stadium opened in 1999. 
Despite widespread criticism of Metro Nashville’s soaring debt payments for all this new civic furniture, residents signed off on the football stadium in a referendum that swept 59% of the vote.
It was part of a broad, much-debated but clear-sighted plan to drive tourism to downtown Nashville and expand the city’s tax base exponentially.
Tourism spending increased 107% from 2010 to 2019, from $3.8 billion to $7.9 billion, according to Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. 
But it wasn’t without cost.
During the same period, Metro’s long-term debt jumped from $2 billion to $3.2 billion. Expenses and revenues also ballooned, respectively, by nearly $1 billion during that period, with Metro’s 2019 budget approved at $2.3 billion.
The current fiscal year’s spending plan is $2.6 billion, including $360 million in long-term debt payments.
Most stakeholders now agree that Metro’s investment returns are beyond what they expected. And, with Tennessee’s accelerated growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nashville’s growth is only rising. 
Plans for east-bank riverfront redevelopment have something of a blueprint in work Chicago has done on its riverfront and with Wrigleyville around its stadium. 
In 2017, Chicago City Council rezoned a sprawling 760-acre industrial riverfront area, opening it up to development partners interested in working within their limitations for access to the prime waterfront real estate. 
Chicago charges its partners a bevy of fees for permits and other access, slating the funds for services and community development projects. 
Nashville is now working with architects who designed Chicago’s redevelopment. Both will share a sports-complex centerpiece. 
“We have spent years listening to our neighbors,” Nihil said. “Nashville needs places for the people who live here. A park to walk with family after dinner; places to shop that aren’t touristy; places to set up a business and things to do.” 
The Democrat and Chronicle contributed.
Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at ckstephenson@tennessean.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.

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