Gaylord-Dollywood park, HCA tax abatements clear Council votes

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 1:01am

Metro Council members reminisced about the bygone days of Opryland before giving preliminary approval of a $5.8 million tax break to accommodate a new tourist destination for that area: a water and snow amusement park billed as the first of its kind.

Arguing job creation trumps tax-break criticism, the council by voice vote approved on the second of three votes a bill that delivers a 60 percent property tax abatement over 12 years to Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Dollywood Co. Through a partnership called Park Holdings, the two companies plan to build the $50 million water and snow park on Gaylord-owned 114 acres at Briley Parkway and McGavock Pike.

“There are a ton of people in this city that think that we ought to have something like Opryland, and wished that it was back, and will be glad to see something like this for families –– regardless of how we get it,” At-large Councilman Tim Garrett said.

Opryland closed in 1997. Construction on the water and snow park is slated for 2013 before a planned 2015 opening. The deal goes before the council for final approval later this month.

Moments after approving a tax break for one Nashville-based corporate giant, the council did the same for another. By a 29-3 vote, the council on final reading approved a seven-year, 60 percent property tax abatement for Hospital Corporation of America to accommodate the health care provider’s planned $200 million new data center in Antioch. The abatement totals more than $3 million.

The convergence of both deals before the council on the same night triggered a brief discussion on the pros and cons of financial incentives in spurring economic development. In the end, job creation easily carried the day –– with the help of Opryland nostalgia.

“As a young man selling ice outside of the ‘Grizzly River Rampage’ and ‘Rockin’ Roller Coaster,’ I hear the remarks that we should have never let this park leave,” Councilman Scott Davis said.

“You know whose district needs the jobs? My district,” he said of his East Nashville District 5.

According to a report from the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, the new water and snow park is supposed to generate 1,900-plus construction jobs and 762 jobs from the park’s onsite activities.

Only a few council members were unimpressed by those stats.

Councilman Josh Stites said he doesn’t want his “appreciation and adoration of Dolly Parton” to be called into question, adding that her latest album is on his iPod. He simply has a “problem with giving tax incentives to companies that move here,” he said.

Stites called the promised construction job creation “disproportionate” with the project’s $50 million price tag. He also said the new water and snow park could “cannibalize” other existing Nashville water parks –– presumably Nashville Shores.

“I don’t think we should be charging other private investors that have large water parks 100 percent taxes, so we can then turn around and essentially subsidize a new water park,” he said.

In his dissent, Councilman Robert Duvall raised the specter of a potential property tax increase, which some observers are predicting this budget cycle.

“The last thing we need to be doing is giving tax incentives to some individuals and then turn around and raise property taxes on people ...” Duvall said.

The council’s approval of the Gaylord/Dollywood deal came after it deleted a condition that required only Nashville-area contractors work on the project after council attorney Jon Cooper cited legal issues with that component. Council members vowed to find a “mechanism” to ensure local workers find construction employment at the site.

The policy of offering PILOT –– payment in lieu of taxes –– deals to companies is one Mayor Karl Dean’s administration has embraced but represents a sharp break from his predecessor Bill Purcell, who never orchestrated any PILOT deal.

Councilman Charlie Tygard, a critic of Purcell, told colleagues Tuesday that Purcell’s “lack of [offering] one minor incentive” to Nissan was the sole reason the car manufacturer built its North America headquarters in Williamson County instead of Davidson County.

Contacted by The City Paper, Purcell’s former finance director David Manning said, “That was not the case.”

7 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 4/4/12 at 2:36

Once again, the new battle cry is heard echoing from governemental chambers at all levels.

"To create jobs!" has become the new trigger word and almost a holy mantra replacing "For the children!" since most voters no longer believe the eternal government lie.

I wonder how many jobs at the waterpark at least, will provide full time, year round employment, paying a living wage allowing those employees to support themselves and a family and help propel the economy forward?

I cannot help but wonder what unpleasant surprises the fine print or perhaps the confidential back room agreements hold to which we the public are not yet privy, nor can I help but wonder how long Mayor Dean's regime is going to continue dropping hints about property tax increases before they spring the trap?

All I can say is, if such an increase depends on my vote, pink slips need to begin bing printed for senior department heads in order to find enough money, because the chances of my being convinced we need a tax increase are slim and none.

And Slim has already left town.

By: T-BONE on 4/4/12 at 7:49

Yes indeed, People from the North and mountains will flock to Nashville to be around more snow; being as they "love it" so much and "miss it" so much in the summer! (duhhh)! If they try to raise the already "too high" property tax, there will be an outcry like you have never heard in Nashville before! The natives can NOT afford it!... A TAX BREAK? GIVE THE 99% A BREAK! ....TAX THE FRIGGEN RICH!

By: Melstruck on 4/4/12 at 9:35

Our police and fire personnel haven't gotten a raise since 2007. And those living in the county will most likely see a property tax increase. So, the people risking their lives every day for the protection of our county don't get a raise, their cost of living is being raised, but it's the corporations that get a tax break? Wow.

By: Xemo on 4/4/12 at 12:25

I'd like to see a list of those who voted for this.

By: Ingleweird on 4/5/12 at 10:42

Folks, this is not entirely a done deal. 3rd and final reading is on April 17. Call and write your Council representatives NOW and tell them you oppose Gaylord/Dollywood's corporate welfare! Visit to find your Council Member.

Not going to happen; it was a voice vote. 27-3 was the tally if I recall correctly my conversation with the clerk.

Add pretty much all Metro employees to that list.

By: Ask01 on 4/6/12 at 8:55

I fear, Ingleweird, this is a done deal.

As with the MCC, Mayor Dean and Metro Council has already set in motion the process and sprung the trap on Metro citizens before even the first reading. Everything that transpired was merely theater for the public and dissent a benefit allowing our supposed representatives to point out the sham of allowing public input.

This current process is also merely eyewash, an illusion for the distraction of the public and the benefit of council members providing plausible deniability that business was ostensibly conducted publicly and above board.

I'm certain Mayor Dean has already written and practiced his speech outlining why he is asking for a tax increase. I am equally positive enough members of the Metro Council have been bullied, cajoled, coerced, or otherwise 'convinced' to support the Mayor's scheme that all of this drama is to browbeat the public into submission and reduce dissent while creating the illusion we citizens had an actual voice in our own governance.

This is all mind over matter.

The politicians don't mind riding roughshod over us, and our opinons don't matter.

By: parnell3rd on 4/8/12 at 7:26

Once again, Gaylord gets big Money from the citizens of Nashville. This love affair with Gaylord has been going on a long time. The Demoncrat's in power loved him, now the Rino's in power love to give him our money too. Now Mayor Dean and our city council will raise our property taxes.