I was thrilled when the Predators came to town.
In fact, I immediately went in on tickets with a gentleman that I was working with at the Public Defender's Office in Nashville. I went to games in the early part of the franchise's existence in the late 90s when there weren't a lot of victories, but there was a lot of enthusiasm.
Even then, the Predators did a great job of introducing themselves to the community, to a nontraditional hockey market. Their outreach was really strong.
I certainly didn't feel it was guaranteed that hockey was going to work in Nashville, but I felt that it was at least a great addition for our city. It put us on the map as a major-league city, which was absolutely critical.
I never could have imagined my first task as mayor would be to hammer out a deal to keep the team in Music City just a few years later.
The Predators were in trouble in 2007, and there was certainly a possibility they would be moved away from the city just a decade after they arrived. I had just won the mayoral election as all of this was going on, and I knew we had to do something.
Part of being a mayor is to deal with challenges that you don't expect, but when they come up, they're vital to the city and you have to deal with them. I was more than willing to do what I could to help, and I knew I wasn't going to be alone in this undertaking.
I was really impressed by the local ownership folks who were interested in buying the team and keeping it here. That in itself was an impressive statement. I was also impressed by the public response and the number of people who showed up at rallies, as well as the number of people who voiced their support for the Predators. I really felt that we had the ingredients there to make it work.
The day we walked into office, and really even before it, we were starting conversations with the new ownership group to work on a lease. Greg Hinote - who still needed to leave his job in Washington, D.C. - ended up working almost exclusively on the issue. I'm just really thankful that we were able to work it out, and I think it was important for the city that the Metro Council approved the new agreement.
It was a positive start for my administration to get this done and to make sure that the Predators would stay in Nashville, but the best was yet to come.
Several years later, when we re-did the lease in 2012, I thought that lease was much better for everybody, and to me, the story of that lease is the Predators outperformed everyone's expectations. Not only were they putting a competitive team on the ice, but they were also running Bridgestone Arena in a way that it was one of the best arenas in the country and in the world. That lease was very much incentive driven, and they more than lived up to that.
Fast forward to the present day and a new lease has been proposed that says the team will no longer be subsidized out of the general fund. In the last 10 years, we've risen from a situation where there was another group that wanted to buy and move this team since we were not hitting our attendance figures and had some financial problems. Now, look where we are today. That vote of confidence the city gave the Predators back in 2007-08 was the right thing to do, and it has paid off tenfold. This new lease is a good thing for everybody.
The Predators have been successful on the ice, but the building they play in has seen just as much positive press. The front office has done an incredible job of running and managing Bridgestone Arena, and that made it better for the city, made it better for the Predators and made the financial situation much stronger.
It put us in a position where now we can have this new lease where the subsidy goes away and the Predators are the ones who will be making the capital investments in the arena. I mean, who would've thought that when we were saving the team back in 2007 that the Predators would be in a position in 2019 to actually do the capital improvements in the building? It's astounding.
What Nashville tried to do with the Predators and with the Music City Center was to invest in the future. The investment has certainly paid off. Downtown is just a different place now. It's alive.
The city should feel very proud about how well the arena has done, how well the Predators have grown and how they've been embraced by the city. Nashville was not a hockey town 20 years ago, and now it is. Now it has one of the best fan bases and one of the best arena experiences in the country. We've traveled a long distance as a city and as a team, and that should make everyone proud.
I believe the Predators are going to win the Stanley Cup. They've certainly got a great organization, and they're really well managed at all levels. Plus, a lot has happened to the city in the last 10 years, and our upside is really high. Of course, there are issues we have to address and get right, but I would always bet on Nashville's future.
Nashville's - and the Predators' - best years are still to come.