Some called it “Nashville’s stimulus package.” Others said it would allow Nashville to emerge as a premier convention destination. Its economic impact would be immeasurable, several declared, leading up to one of the most memorable Metro Council votes in recent memory.
Music City Center may ultimately deliver on all those counts. But Metro Council members who in 2010 voted for financing the $585 million convention center — along with Mayor Karl Dean — don’t seem to be aggressively campaigning on their records of supporting the most expensive municipal project in Tennessee history.
With the defining issue of the past council now in construction phase, Music City Center has taken a noticeable backseat this campaign season. Early voting begins Friday and runs through July 30.
Most notably, Mayor Karl Dean, who put his political capital on the line to spearhead the project, hasn’t mentioned the center — and the jobs, economic jolt and visual impact its been billed to produce — in either of his two television ads. One commercial does briefly pan over a Music City Center construction crane. Observers have dubbed the 1.2-million-square-foot facility, set to open in 2013, Dean’s signature project.
“Mayor Dean always talks about the positive impact the Music City Center has made and will continue to make,” Dean re-election spokesman Tom Hayden said, adding that combined with the new Omni Hotel, the facility will become part of “the premier entertainment district in the country.”
But Emily Evans, one of nine council members who disapproved the center’s financing, said she received recently a “Dear constituent” campaign letter from the mayor that didn’t mention Music City Center at all.
“I guess it didn’t poll well, but that’s just speculation on my part,” Evans said. “Considering the political battle it was, you would have thought it would be front and center.”
At-large Councilman Tim Garrett is among a handful of council members who voted for Music City Center’s financing and have also released television ads. Garrett doesn’t reference his convention center vote, but touts his support for the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, which voters can weigh in on via public referendum.
“I think of all the issues out there — and I’ve got in my ad — the general public is still more enthralled with the fairgrounds issue than they are with the convention center,” Garrett said. “So, I think the fairgrounds issue is what’s going to be in most peoples’ minds. So that’s what most people are advertising.”
Councilman Eric Crafton, who’s competing for an at-large seat, suggested there are political reasons for not recalling the Music City Center vote.
“Nobody that voted for the convention center is going to campaign on the fact that they voted for the convention center,” said Crafton, who voted against Music City Center’s financing. “It’s taken up all the borrowing capacity and ability to operate that the government has.”
At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry has also released an ad called “What Matters.” She supported Music City Center, but doesn’t mention her vote — or how the project will reap benefits — in her TV spot.
Ronnie Steine, also running for a second term as an at-large member, briefly walks in front of the convention center construction site as he talks about job growth in his ad, but doesn’t mention the center.
“The community has moved on, and everyone wants it to succeed,” Steine said of the convention center. “It’s really not an issue. It hardly ever comes up.
“I’ve been to umpteen forums, and there’s been [only] one question about it,” he said.
Besides television ads, Music City Center has also seemingly gotten little mention on candidates’ websites.
Before he cast his vote for the center, Councilman Bo Mitchell was among those who said the project would create jobs in the midst of a stagnant economy. He’s currently running for re-election to reclaim his District 35 seat.
Listed on Mitchell’s website in bullet-point are several issues in which he’s played a role. He recalls how he voted to “fully fund” schools with no property tax increase; secured funds for greenways; and increased the area’s police force.
Mitchell doesn’t mention Music City Center.
“I guess if I were running countywide, you would run on issues like the convention center, things that are more global,” Mitchell said. “But if you’re running in a district, you’re going to be running on issues that affect the guy down the street.”