The proposed $635 million convention center project could soon have a brand-new nine-member board overseeing its development.
Mayor Karl Dean submitted legislation Monday to create a new Convention Center Authority, which would oversee the development of the proposed Music City Center project. State legislation passed this session authorized the creation of the Convention Center Authority.
“While the process of forming the Convention Center Authority has been in place since state legislation was filed in February, recent concerns about the communications contract for the project underscore the value a nine-member board will bring to managing a development of this size,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said in a release.
Riebeling admitted news reports surrounding the communications contract “accelerated [filing the Convention Center Authority legislation] by a couple of weeks."
“This was always the plan,” Riebeling said. “At some point in time, once the budget was done, we would bring creating the authority to Council for approval.”
Last year, MDHA amended the communications contract for Music City Center from $75,000 to make it open-ended. Since that time, the public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox billed the city for over $450,000 for communications work for the project.
This outraged Metro Council members, including District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson, who has called for a public meeting to review invoices turned in by the PR firm.
Dean suspended the use of McNeely, Pigott & Fox and instructed MDHA to submit all predevelopment-related invoices to Metro Finance for approval.
Riebeling said he was in the very early stages of reviewing the invoices, but added it did not appear “anybody did anything wrong.”
“The way the contract was set up was maybe not the best,” Riebeling said.
At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard said Council deserved a full accounting of MDHA’s management of predevelopment activities before it moved to create the new Convention Center Authority.
“We need to get some information regarding what happened,” Maynard said. “I’m not against establishing the commission, but there are some things Council needs to know before we move forward.”
Maynard said Council would have a critically important job approving the nine-member board, because the Convention Center Authority will be overseeing a project that some estimate will reach nearly $1 billion. Besides Music City Center itself, a public/private hotel has also been proposed for the project.
Metro Council will consider the resolution to create the new board at its Aug. 18 meeting.
The nine board members will be recommended by Dean and then approved by Metro Council. The Convention Center Authority will also have a staff once it is created — the Metro Finance Department will provide staffing help until that time.
Metro Development and Housing Agency is managing the predevelopment phase of the proposed convention center project.
Finance Director Richard Riebeling said it would take several months to transition overseeing the project from MDHA to the proposed new Convention Center Authority.
The Music City Center project still needs financing approval from Council. The Dean administration has said it would have a financing package for Council to consider in the coming months.
Funds for predevelopment activities and land acquisition, which Council approved earlier this year, come from tourism taxes and fees created in 2008. So far, MDHA has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities. Council allocated another $75 million for land acquisition.