Friday, October 10, 2008

Sounds, Metro can't agree on lease

By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • October 10, 2008 The Nashville Sounds and Metro government continue to disagree about the Sounds' future at Greer Stadium as the baseball team's lease is running out, a top city official said Thursday. Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said the team has asked for a short-term lease of one to five years after Dec. 31, but the city wants the Sounds to make a long-term commitment to fixing up the 30-year-old ballpark. "We want their ownership to show a commitment to Nashville, to staying in Nashville," Riebeling said. Jeff Diamond, a consultant working for the Sounds, said he couldn't say much about the negotiations. "I would just say discussions continue, and we're talking and meeting and trying to get something worked out," said Diamond, who was president of the Tennessee Titans from 1999 to 2004. "I'll just leave it at that for now." Alhough there are still more than two months to reach an agreement, the impasse reflects the frosty relations between the Sounds and Mayor Karl Dean, who was the city's top attorney during previous negotiations for a new riverfront ballpark on city-owned land. Under the original plan, that facility would have opened in 2007, but the deal fell apart 18 months ago after the Sounds fought with their development partner and missed two financing deadlines. Dean has shown little trust for the Sounds' Chicago-based management since then. He was angry when the Sounds advanced state legislation last winter that would have let them collect sales tax from a future ballpark to help pay off their construction costs. The franchise eventually had the bill withdrawn. Asked if the Sounds would want to be assured that they could build a new stadium before making a long-term commitment to Nashville, Riebeling referred to the earlier deal. "They had an opportunity to build a stadium in downtown Nashville, and they walked away from that transaction," he said. Dean said in a February interview that the Sounds may have missed their best chance to partner with the city. "We're certainly not going to offer a better deal, and we may not be able to offer the same deal," he said. City asks for upgrades Riebeling said the Sounds haven't offered any new proposals or designs. In the meantime, the city has asked the Pacific Coast League franchise to upgrade Greer Stadium, a 10,052-seat facility just south of downtown. Metro wants the Sounds to bring Greer into compliance with standards imposed by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and improve the stadium's restrooms and concessions facilities. "What are they going to do about Greer?" Riebeling said. "Because it's not fair to the fans." He also said it was too easy for the Sounds to say the stadium is old. "Wrigley Field is old," he said. "Fenway Park is old. Just because something is old doesn't mean it's something that can't be maintained in a way that fans appreciate." But many of the Sounds' peers in the minor-league baseball ranks are enjoying newer facilities. Thirteen Triple-A teams will play next season in stadiums built in 2000 or later. "I think they need a new stadium downtown, without a doubt," said Wallace Primm, a longtime Sounds fan and a retired Metro Transit Authority bus driver. "I love baseball. What matters to me is the viability of having baseball in Nashville."

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