Nashville to move forward with 2028 RNC, DNC bids after GOP legislative push

Nashville to move forward with 2028 RNC, DNC bids after GOP legislative push

Nashville will move forward with bids to host a 2028 national political convention, according to letters Mayor John Cooper sent to the Republican and Democratic national committees on Thursday — just hours after Republican legislative leadership signaled an effort could ease rising tensions between state and local leaders.

“Metro Nashville is open to moving forward in the process of bidding and hosting the RepublicanNational Convention in 2028. We are sending a similar letter of interest to the Democratic NationalCommittee as well,” Cooper wrote in the letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

“The city’s bid is submitted with the understanding that the Republican National Convention and thebipartisan Local Organizing Committee will raise all required funds, and I am confident such an effort willbe successful.”

The letters, co-signed by Butch Spyridon, CEO Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, signal Nashville’s interest in hosting a convention but are not a binding agreement as the city would still have to go through a bid process. The Metro Council would ultimately have to approve the site agreement, per Cooper’s letter.

On Thursday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, suggested to reporters that lawmakers might pull back on a proposed bill to redirect a tourist zone tax that benefits the Music City Center, if Cooper signaled Nashville was open to a 2028 RNC bid. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said he would consider it a “good faith” effort.

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Cooper spoke with Sexton after the speaker’s comments, according to a source familiar with a call.

“Speaker Sexton and Mayor Cooper did have a conversation much like they have many times in the past,” Sexton spokesperson Doug Kufner said in a statement Friday. “The speaker very much appreciates the mayor’s leadership in finalizing and sending the letters of interest to the RNC and DNC for the 2028 conventions.”

“The bi-partisan host committee will reassemble and continue in their goal to bring a national convention to Nashville,” Kufner said. “The speaker is hopeful Nashville will be selected as the host city. He looks forward to continuing to work with Mayor Cooper for the betterment of Nashville and Tennessee in the years ahead.”

The letters are aimed at showing Republican leaders the city is serious about working with the state, and the city hopes to see some movement on the legislation targeting Nashville, the person said. The city could still back off the effort over the next two weeks.

The letters to the RNC and DNC were first reported by Axios Nashville.

Longstanding tensions between Metro Nashville and the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority boiled over in recent months into multiple bills designed to wrest control away from the city, including an effort to halve Metro Council, redirect a tourist zone tax that benefits the convention center and take over the Nashville airport governing board. The efforts are widely seen as retaliation against Metro Council for voting down an agreement to host the 2024 RNC convention, if the city’s bid were selected.

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A 2028 bid would likely be far different than the proposed 2024 convention. The city’s East Bank development would be done, including a new Titans stadium, the police force would be larger and the security situation different than a 2024 convention centered around Bridgestone Arena, the Music City Center and Lower Broadway. 

Sexton on Thursday said an RNC bid would not stop the effort by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, to downsize the Metro Council, but said it would “start the process of having a better working relationship” between the city and General Assembly.

When asked what the city could gain by ceding to the supermajority’s wishes for a 2028 convention, Sexton pointed to the convention center bill, which would repeal the city’s authority to impose extra sales taxes in a designated tourist zone, among other changes.

Sexton wryly noted to reporters he doesn’t think Cooper wants lawmakers “to dive too deep” into the where the city is spending the convention center’s tax zone revenues.

How much Cooper’s effort will actually cool tensions between Nashville and the supermajority in the state Capitol remains to be seen, as McNally signaled skepticism in a Friday statement. McNally strongly backed the bill to redirect convention center funding.

“While I appreciate this attempt to show good faith, I remain disappointed about the missed opportunity of the 2024 convention,” McNally said. “I am also concerned this could quite easily turn into a replay of that missed opportunity. Mayor Cooper has the ability to do this unilaterally. His deference to the council is what created the problem in the first place. While the letters are better than nothing, until the mayor can claim the support of the council or demonstrate a willingness to go around them, I’m not sure all that much has truly changed.”

Duane W. Gang contributed to this report.

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