In January, nine Metro Council members voted against publicly financing a new $585 million convention center. Concerns were beat out by 29 others who voted for Mayor Karl Dean’s signature project.
Now, with construction on the 1.2 million-square-foot Music City Center well underway, the entire council has decided it’s in the city’s best interest to anchor the building with a convention center headquarters hotel, voting unanimously Tuesday night to approve a public-private deal to pay for a $287 million Omni Hotel on Fifth Avenue South.
“I think everyone knows that we needed a hotel,” Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling said of the council’s resounding approval. “I think everyone is comfortable that we’ve gone in a direction that is good for Nashville.”
Design and development issues are now the final kinks that project leaders must work out to allow the new 260-foot tall hotel to open by June 2013, a few months after the projected opening of Music City Center. Riebeling said he projects a groundbreaking “sometime next year,” perhaps next spring or early summer.
The project’s architectural team –– led by Dallas-based HKS Architects Inc. –– is in the process of converting conceptual plans released earlier this month into final schematic designs. The team must bring final designs before the nine-member Convention Center Authority by Nov. 15.
Project leaders have also established a mid-November deadline for executives of Omni and the adjacent Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum to work out a potential physical connection between their two structures.
Riebeling said he’s “very optimistic” Omni and the hall will strike a deal and that representatives of the two groups met last week.
“My understanding is they left the meeting in a very good place,” Riebeling said, adding that they agreed in concept, but now have to put it in writing. “They see the advantages of it. They see how it’s great for Nashville. And they’re moving in that direction.”
Under the now-approved financing, Metro is to pay Omni $25 million in tax increment financing in 2011, and another $103 million over 20 years from revenue generated by the hotel through tourist-targeted taxes. Omni would cover the rest of the costs.
Omni is also set to receive a 62.5 percent property tax discount for 20 years after the new hotel opens, an incentive the council approved by voting for a separate ordinance Tuesday night.
Hotel amenities include four restaurants, 560 parking spaces, 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a spa and fitness center. It’s still unclear whether the hotel will include a fourth-floor sky bridge that would connect with the new convention center.
Riebeling said he doesn’t anticipate any more items related to the convention center that would require council approval.
“I don’t know of anything else that has to seek [council] approval,” Riebeling said. “In terms of the financing and the plan, we’ve passed the last hurdle.”
In other news:
• The council approved a bill that authorizes the presence of pet dogs in outdoor areas of restaurants.
Several Nashville restaurant owners already offer special periods when patrons are welcome to bring their dogs onto the premises. But previously, Metro law did not allow dogs in restaurants.
Animal-lover Councilwoman Karen Bennett, who represents parts of Inglewood, sponsored the bill.