Nashville Extends Welcome Mat to Oilers
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Nashville voters approved a referendum Tuesday to bring the Oilers from Houston to Tennessee for the 1998 season, if not earlier.
By a margin of 59 percent to 40 percent, voters made the Oilers the seventh NFL team to relocate since 1982 and the first big league franchise in Tennessee.
``You did it, you really did it,″ Mayor Phil Bredesen said. ``The democratic process has worked to give people a chance to vote on this.″
Bredesen has said the prospect of the Oilers coming to Nashville would be a great opportunity for a city known for its country music roots.
The team won’t debut in Tennessee before the 1998 season unless Oilers owner Bud Adams negotiates his way out of the two years remaining on his contract to play in Houston’s Astrodome.
Adams agreed to move his franchise, a charter member of the American Football League, to Nashville in March. He decided to leave Houston after city officials there balked at a new stadium.
The arrangement with Nashville ties the Oilers to an unbuilt 65,000-seat stadium for 30 years. Adams faces high penalties if the team leaves before its lease expires.
The actual referendum was on an $80 million bond issue so Nashville could pay its share of a $292 million relocation deal. Opponents forced a referendum, contending the city shouldn’t be dedicating public money for a private venture like an NFL franchise.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, the ``Yes″ vote for stadium funding received 59.4 percent to 40.6 percent voting ``No.″
``They’ve chosen to pay the price and that’s their right, their democratic right, and that’s what we want,″ Red McClary of the Concerned Citizens for Metro Nashville told WTVF-TV.
The referendum was forced by a petition with 28,512 signatures. It came while city officials finalized a deal they believe will keep the Oilers in Nashville and avoid tax increases to pay for the team.
Stadium opponents predicted higher taxes. The two-month campaign turned a vote for a football team into a decision on Nashville’s future.
``As adults, we have a responsibility to leave our children a viable and vibrant economy,″ said Ray Dayal, a 50-year-old businessman who voted for the Oilers. ``This is an excellent opportunity for Nashville, and we must grab it. We’ll never be forgiven by our children.″
Hotels and motels, restaurants and other businesses fueled the referendum campaign with donations to Yes for Nashville, a group that spent more than $400,000 lobbying voters for the Oilers.
Concerned Citizens for Metro Nashville fought back with a shoestring budget of $25,000. They had banked on a silent majority of voters talking only at the polls.
Marci Smeck voted no and said Nashville should worry first about schools, safety and firefighting equipment to improve the quality of life.
``I don’t have anything against football,″ she said. ``I just don’t think professional sports is going to solve the problem.″
The referendum culminated an 10-month process that began unexpectedly with a phone call from the Oilers.
Nashville was chasing the New Jersey Devils hockey team as an anchor for a new arena being built when the mayor learned the Oilers wanted to leave Houston.
Work on the stadium will start in earnest Wednesday. City officials have spent the past two months negotiating with businesses located on the east bank of the Cumberland River, site of the open-air stadium.
Buying up that land will take at least three months before construction could begin.