Despite the expected three dissidents, Metro Council on Friday afternoon officially approved the creation of a Convention Center Authority to oversee development of the proposed Music City Center and its attached hotel.
What Council actually did was vote 33-3 to uphold its decision from the Aug. 18 meeting to create the CCA. Opposition to the move came from the same vocal minority of Mike Jameson, Emily Evans and Eric Crafton, who have criticized Mayor Karl Dean’s administration for fast-tracking convention center-related legislation in an effort to quiet scrutiny.
The threesome also said Council should wait to put the Convention Center Authority in place until after Dean presents a financing plan.
“There seems to be very, very many open questions. They can’t seem to answer them,” Evans said. “They can’t give us a schedule. They’re making pledges about what they’re not going to do, but we need to see what they are going to do.
“This is a really big project and I think it’s being aired with the casualness of a sidewalk project.”
The administration has said since last year that the plan was to create a volunteer citizen board to oversee the proposed $635 million Music City Center and its attached public/private hotel. But when it was revealed that the Metro Development and Housing Agency, which had been overseeing the project, was overspending for public relations efforts, the mayor’s office moved up the timeline to create the authority.
Other Council members, including Vivian Wilhoite, said the Convention Center Authority is favorable because the board will make public its quarterly financial reports.
But Evans wondered why a new volunteer board would do a better job running a massive project worth $1 billion when the current MDHA board has more experience. MDHA has, among others, managed the development of like LP Field, the Sommet Center and the downtown public library.
“We have a volunteer board running MDHA, if they can’t do it, why would a volunteer board be any better,” Evans asked.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling maintained that the convention center project is on schedule and on budget, despite the revelation Metro had paid $458,000 to PR firm McNeely Pigott & Fox even though the original contract was for just $75,000.
“As I said, there was some lack in oversight that I take some responsibility for,” Riebeling said, cautioning against putting all the blame on MDHA for not managing the PR contract well. “It led to a lot of stories, a lot of articles, that are important because any time you spend public money it’s important.
“But the big picture is this project is on schedule and we’re not over budget.”
So far Metro has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities, including design, financial consulting and building management consulting. Those funds come from tourism-related taxes and fees approved by Council last year.
Dean will appoint members to the nine-person board and those appointees will have to be approved by a Council vote.
Council held Friday’s special meeting after Jameson used an obscure procedural rule to force the legislation to be reconsidered at its next meeting. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, at the request of several Council members, called the special meeting for Friday instead of waiting until the next meeting on Sept. 2.