Council hears from citizens on proposed convention center

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 12:50am

One week before the Metro Council decides the fate of a proposed $585 million convention center, Nashvillians weighed in on the massive proposal at a public hearing Monday night, offering some familiar reasons for and against moving forward with the project.

After competing sides staged rallies outside the Council chambers, project supporters reminded the Council of Music City Center’s economic impact and promise to create jobs, while skeptical citizens urged for a public referendum and called attention to its financial risk and potential detriment to downtown growth.

Ron Samuels, chairman of the Music City Center Coaltion, a group lobbing on behalf of the convention center, said revenues from taxes and fees that target tourists will pay for 100 percent of the project, adding that the pay structure used to fund the existing Nashville Convention Center offers a “proven track record.”

“This is about building our city,” Samuels said. “There are very few opportunities that we have to make an investment in an infrastructure facility where the revenues actually cover the debt service.”

Dan McGee of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention –– a group that’s already reserved a convention at Music City Center in 2013 –– said that in 2005, the last time the organization held it annual meeting in Nashville, the organization was “stretched” in terms of facility space.

“We would like to come here more often,” McGee said. “This is our hometown, and we would like to hold our annual meeting here more often, but we’re not able to do this because of the limited facilities.”

Other supporters included a woman business owner and an African-American entrepreneur, both said their employees would benefit from the 2,000 construction jobs spurred by a new convention center –– the Metro Development and Housing Agency has vowed that 20 percent of all work related to the center will come from a combination of small businesses and companies owned by women or minorities.

Meanwhile, a few owners of downtown music venues and museums made the case that the new Music City Center would produce more conventioneers, boosting the economic activity of the city’s urban core.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Sharp, who heads a convention center opposition group known as Nashville’s Priorities, demanded a referendum to decide whether the city should build the center.

“There are tens of thousands of people across Davidson County who cannot be here tonight to tell this Council what they think about the project,” Sharp said. “But they deserve that right to be heard on this project.”

Sharp said he’s collected thousands of signatures from people asking to be heard on the project through a referendum, petitions that he plans to hand the Council later this week.

“This project is massive,” he said. “The risk is extraordinary to all the citizens across Davidson County.”

While acknowledging some potential benefits, Tad Wood, a resident of the Belmont neighborhood, said there’s no guarantee that the revenue streams will come in, adding the cost of the project itself will likely go over budget. He also pointed out that project still needs a convention center hotel, which project leaders have projected would cost $300 million.

“It’s going to be rammed down our throats,” Wood told Council members. “[The convention center’s] not going to be built without [the hotel]. We know it’s not being included so we wouldn’t get the whole price tag.”

Ernest Campbell, a longtime resident of the Germantown neighborhood, argued that while it’s regrettable downtown Nashville lacks the vibrancy and offerings found in other cities, a new convention center isn’t the answer.

“A new convention center does little to change this,” Campbell said. “It would be built to attract temporary residents temporarily. To the overwhelming majority of Metro Nashvillians, it will be absolutely irrelevant.

“Downtown financial commitments and obligations should be made toward projects that make downtown more attractive to residents as well as visitors,” he said. “The convention center does not do that.”

Read our previous Music City Center stories here.


22 Comments on this post:

By: border collie on 1/12/10 at 7:57

I found the clips from the council meeting shown on news channel 5 @ 10pm were interesting. Another attempt to represent the opposition to this money pit in a negative way. Money before people in today's enviornment. there is no shame only arrogance. However, those who went before the council to oppose...thanks!
Everything is done via a click of a few buttons and via the web in today's market. It is not cost effective to fly people accross the country for a convention once a year. Medical markets & some others still use convention type atmospheres...but those are limited.
this is not about progress...WE ARE MUSIC CITY! We have always been in the international spotlight....the Grand Old Opry was one of the few things on the radio many years ago! Who the hell doesn't know where and who we are...Stop trying to make it look like nashville is sinking and suffering and will continue to do so without this money pit! who is going to fund it when the companies do not book ??
We DO NOT WANT to be san fran or vegas......WE ARE MUSIC CITY and the music has always packed em in to this town and will continue to with or without a convention center!
To those who are pushing so hard for this.....will you still be living here in 20 years??? will your children??? Mine will and i don't want them to pay the tab!!!

By: Kosh III on 1/12/10 at 8:05

"To the overwhelming majority of Metro Nashvillians, it will be absolutely irrelevant.
“Downtown financial commitments and obligations should be made toward projects that make downtown more attractive to residents as well as visitors,” he said"

There is already very little incentive to come downtown: parking is an expensive nightmare, no shops beyond the tourist trinket stores, there is nothing unique to draw people. This will be actually serve to keep locals away from downtown.

If we want a real downtown draw, put in a mall such as San Diego's 6 story Horton Plaza which is topped by movie theatres.


We WILL pay for this thing: upkeep, maintenance and employees will be paid from Metro not from tourist taxes: even more money we don't have.

By: sidneyames on 1/12/10 at 8:48

If we want a real downtown draw, put in a mall such as San Diego's 6 story Horton Plaza which is topped by movie theatres

Yep Kosh III, this is true and the reason I don't go downtown except when I HAVE to go for my job, are the fees for parking. Getting higher and higher.

By: producer2 on 1/12/10 at 9:32

Can anyone tell me what would happen to the funding for the MCC if it were voted down next week?

By: Pmd12931 on 1/12/10 at 11:42

Does the problem we are having downtown with water mains breaking, and having to be replaced, and school roofs leaking, indicate that we need the money the convention center would cost to take care of things that are beneficial to all of us. We have no assurance enough tourists will come to Nashville to pay for this Dean project and if it is built, we will be saddled with the upkeep and maintenance as we are with the downtown center and the LP field.. At first it was said by Dean that the center was a no go without the hotel, but that idea has changed somewhat. I think the only certain thing about this project is the fact that if it was left up to a public referendum, it would be rejected because Dean and his rubber stampers have their heads in the sand and are looking at pie in the sky and not reality with the economy the way it is.

By: airvols on 1/12/10 at 11:42

Thousands showed up in support of this project last night and a few citizens were in opposition. I was glad to see the support of the project and know it will continue to grow as the building becomes a reality. "Build it and they will come"

By: Magnum on 1/12/10 at 11:42

Producer, I guess I'm not following your direction. The funding is debt so nothing would happen to it except that it wouldn't be committed.

By: producer2 on 1/12/10 at 11:49

Wrong, once the current debt that has been incurred for property, etc. is paid off the tax would simply go away. There is no money for broken pipes, schools, or any other project that citizens might want to use the funds for. It is both a State and Metro law so you cannot just go in and change it. Here is the Metro version of the ordinance:
5.12.130 Distribution of additional convention center hotel occupancy tax funds.
All revenues received by the Metropolitan Government from the privilege tax imposed pursuant to this Article shall be deposited into a Metropolitan Government fund entitled “The Convention Center Fund” and shall be used for the purpose of paying costs incurred in modification or construction of a publicly-owned convention center in excess of Four Hundred Million Dollars ($400,000,000.00) and costs located within the territory of the Metropolitan Government. Such revenues may also be used for the operation, promotion, management and marketing of such a convention center. If the revenues from such surcharge or tax in any fiscal year exceed the total of such debt service requirements from that year, such surplus revenue thus accruing shall be retained by the Metropolitan Government as a reserve fund for future convention center debt service requirements.
5.12.140 Termination of additional convention center hotel occupancy privilege tax.
The additional convention center hotel occupancy tax authorized by this Article shall terminate once the total bonded indebtedness incurred for the modification or construction of such convention center facility by the Metropolitan Government has been paid in full as to bond principal and interest, including the expenses of bond sale or sales, and the Metropolitan Council repeals the provisions of this Article. Provided, however, that any funds and interests remaining in the reserve fund after all obligations imposed under the provision of this part have been fulfilled, shall be used by the governmental board or agency responsible for the operation of the convention center for use by it in the operation, promotion and advertisement of the convention center facilities.

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 1:54

Prohibition was repealed, so can the silly funding use restrictions in an enabling legislation packet. It is half-witted to think that Moses had God to engrave this enabling legislation in stone, never to be changed again.

Quote the silly legislation all you want, it still doesn't change the fact that it can be changed, erased, amended, or repealed. I would think that the meetings people would fight it tooth and nail but seeing that they would be doing so after a trouncing by the public I would think they would not have much firm ground to stand on.

Meeting planners aren't very smart (if they were they would be more than brainless interior decorators and glorified junior league party planners) so I would imagine they would try to tell the state legislature that the people want them to keep the money.

By: producer2 on 1/12/10 at 2:11

You would have to change both the State AND Metro laws. In the history of Hotel/Motel tax, neither entity, State or Metro has EVER voted for a tax on Hotel rooms that has not gone back into the tourism funding for the City of Nashville. Quit misleading these people into thinking this would be any different. This is not anarchy, we are still a civilized government and live by the laws we pass. What makes you think the legislators would change this at all?

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 2:20

It has not happened because no one has ever asked for it to happen. There are thousands of instances nationwide where hotel/motel taxes are used for non tourism activities, from sports stadiums, to parks, to public safety facilities. Each example from this state was preceeded by enabling legislation in the state houses. The legislators are representatives of the people not the special interest (supposedly anyway) so they should do waht the people ask them to do. Just because you own their ear when we are not watching does not mean you can still control their vote when WE start watching them.

I repeat, these are not commandments and there is basis in history and law for reversing course on any piece of legislation. The hotel owners can complain all they want but this is not their money, it is money collected from visitors and locals using those services. This does no effect their bottom lines one iota.

By: NotDaveCooley on 1/12/10 at 2:21

Producer, in response to your response to JeffF

The legislature has voted at least 4 times to allow tourism taxes to be used for other uses, as recently as 2007. If the original convention center was "an investment in Nashville because we believe we're the bestest city in the world, by golly", then shouldn't the increase in revenue be allowed to be used for our schools, etc? I mean, if 9 out of 10 people in Nashville works in the tourism industry, should we have a first class education system to educate them? We want our tourists to enjoy their time here, bless their hearts.

Outright lying shows how desperate your side has become. Maybe all the real people that showed up last night and out-numbered the "financially-conflicted" has you worried.

PS. Still waiting for that bond rating....

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 2:29

Education of the workforce makes people overqualified for a majority of the jobs in the hospitality and meetings industry. Once you have a high school diploma and can read a job application it to too expensive to hire you as a maid, conference server, or bellhop. Once you have a business, science, or most any other legitimate bachelors degree you are too smart to be a meeting planner. Those jobs are reserved for home economics and literature majors since the last thing you want in a meeting planner is an understanding of how the world of business actually operates.

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 2:31

I have discovered that there are a lot of failed communications and journalism graduates entering the meeting planning and promotion field. That says a lot.

By: producer2 on 1/12/10 at 2:45

We are well aware of your buddy Mannings use of tourism taxes to cover such things as the Farmers Market and anything else he deemed appropriate. Did he not also say when he did it that it was temporary? I think he did. I am sure JeffF is thrilled you have his back by the way and I am also sure that the 57,000 people who work in the tourism industry are thrilled that you turn your nose up at the work that they do.

While we are at it I just wanted to take a moment and ask you if you think it was fair for you to ask me via email to leave you out of my online blogging all the while you were still challenging me under a pseudonym? I left you alone as you requested and know I find out you are doing this. Is this how you govern as well? Is this really how a Council Member should act? Just asking.....

As far as the bond rating, as I have said before this seems to be your area of expertise. I thought your question last night regarding the difference between bonds using the General Fund as a backstop and bonds that did not answered that question. did it not?

By: CitizensWin on 1/12/10 at 3:12

From the tone of proponents it appears that

'The Hospitality Industry Has Some Hostility Issues'

The Truth Hurts

26% Polled are for the MCC while

72% Want a public Vote


This issue demands to be settle in the voting booth.

By: producer2 on 1/12/10 at 3:23

I think anytime you attack an industry, especially one that has been good for the citizens of Davidson County you are going to get some push back. People want to vote on everything and it does not mean that they should. The Council was put in place to handle these questions and we should trust them to do so. They can still vote this down or they could vote for it. We will all find out a week from today.

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 3:46

That is an interesting stat there Producer, 57,000. The state Department of Labor And Workforce Development shows just 10,742 working in the piddly little industry.

For information purposes only. The average weekly wage in Davidson County is a reasonably low $842. The average weekly wage in the hospitality sector of our economy is $477, 43.3% less than the county average. Wow, what an industry! I do not think the few hospitality employees able to afford a computer and internet access would be put off by my insulting their employers.

Also there are 11 other industries ahead of your proud industry in number of employees. 12 if you count government. Now if I wrote something insulting about them I probably would hear back from them, since they are large enough to insult.

Curious you would call it temporary when your pretty laws did not allow their use to begin with. It is almost as if the law could be written or changed to use it for other purposes. How did that get by your industry, people using taxes they collect for something other than convention facilities. Its almost as if the Nashville officials asked the state to be able to spread the money around. That's odd. I thought they could not do that.

You may want to quit making up statistics Producer, I am more than capable of calling you on them. I sent out the 30,000 new jobs on my Christmas Card this year since I had as much of a chance creating those jobs as the convention center does.

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 3:55

I am still trying to figure out how tourism has been good to Davidson. Is it the
Third World wages, the need for public assistance for its employees, or the industry's high unemployment rates and low employment benefits that Nashville should be thankful enough to keep "investing" in? Maybe its the closed amusement parks or the tax subsidies of tourism facilities that we should be thankful for? Maybe its the high taxes on rental cars and hotels that we citizens and businesses must pay to build those facilities for tourism?

What exactly should we be thankful for tourism again? I am just not seeing it. I will admit if you say Ice, the Rockettes, and Fan Fair crowds I will snort.

By: JeffF on 1/12/10 at 4:03

Whoops I just found the latest state report for Davidson county. Tourism employment actually dropped since that other report, from 10,742 to 10,048. So the industry is even more irrelevant that it was before. Average Davidson County wage is $896 and the average wage in "the industry" is $516. Bow our heads and be grateful that the tourism wage wasn't less than the 57.6%. Amen.

By: Anna3 on 1/12/10 at 4:25

We will remember who votes for this on the will return to bite them on the A$$.

By: CitizensWin on 1/12/10 at 4:54

To convince others what a rip-off the Music City Center is...

Consider this:

Q. How much did it cost to build the Guggenheim Museum in Spain?

A. It cost $100 million to construct it in 1997, the year it opened, and another $20 million was invested in it's endowement. Due to it's success, the endowement has since been increased to $118 million dollars.

So now, explain to me why a Tuck-Hinton box costs 500% more than the
Bilbao Guggenheim Museum in Spain?

Time to go back to the drawing board,
And when we do go back to the drawing board,
let's go back with some world class urban design worth visiting.