On Sunday, Nashville’s $585 million Phil Vassar job-creation project officially opens to the public.
With a weekend-long fete, the Music City Center will throw open its doors to an — is eager the right word? — Nashville with performances from Sheryl Crow, the Fisk Jubilee Singers and, yes, of course, Phil Vassar — Music City’s always-ready singer-songwriter in residence.
But then what?
Like it or not, we are stuck with it — this 2.1 million-square-foot monument to the amount of political capital Karl Dean had acquired, a cenotaph to milquetoast legislative opposition more than three years in the making.
It is — in fairness — a voluminous civic structure, stretching the full length of three blocks, steel and glass reaching into the sky, a hyper-stylized guitar carefully laid between Demonbreun and the Korean Veterans Boulevard.
Watching as the strength of a battalion of cranes lifting hundreds of feet of steel, deftly put into place by men with the delicate touch of surgeons — it was hard not to be filled with awe. Then that body got its skin — windows heaved into place, miles of glass to reflect the hopefulness of a sunny future.
But let’s not all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” — naturally, Phil Vassar will lead us — just yet.
This gigantic structure — impressive though it is — is still a gamble. A gamble that people will go to conventions. A gamble that those conventions will come to Nashville. A gamble that the money they spend while convening will outweigh the massive outlay it took to draw them here in the first place. A gamble that ancillary growth will come to the KVB instead of choking off the natural progression of growth south of downtown that was already underway before the city condemned all that space and threw up a magnificent roadblock.
And then there’s the gamble that our city’s sudden “It”-ness won’t flit away as quickly as it came — that those outsiders who have fawned over us and given us TV shows and cultural cachet won’t get bored with us and find a new squeeze somewhere else.
If those bets all hit — more’s the better. We’ll erect a statue of Mayor Dean and of his finance guru Rich Riebeling and of Butch Spyridon, the city’s irrepressible Convention and Visitors Bureau chief. They can go on the green roof to forever keep watch on the new and bustling metropolis they coaxed into greatness. Those who cast a jaundiced and wary eye, wondering aloud if perhaps there was a better use of the city’s credit line than this, will be proven wrong, and will be happy in their wrongness. And those, like Gannett, The Tennessean’s parent company, which donated $15,000 to the effort to secure the MCC, will be pleased they backed the right horse.
But if those gambles miss, the MCC will still be a monument. Like Shelley’s Ozymandias, we’ll look on their works, mighty, and despair. If business dries up and the hotel/motel tax can’t pay the bonds — well, as old Percy said, we’ll have a colossal wreck, boundless and bare. And the money to pay the bills will have to come from somewhere else (three guesses who they’ll ask to pay).
For now though, marvel on the wonder of this civic cathedral, our new point of pride.
This weekend, at least, let hope spring eternal.
Just hope future mayors don’t have to send Phil Vassar out busking to pay for it.