Editorial: Vote ‘yes’ on the convention center

Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:45pm

Like backslaps and favors, handwringing and gnashing of teeth have their place in local politics. But the red herrings issued by opponents of the Music City Center project should not be dissuasive. We strongly urge the Metro Council to pass the financing plan for a new downtown convention center Tuesday, thus ensuring a more prosperous civic future for both residents and businesses.

First, let’s address the risk.

The plan cites a $585 million overall cost, which includes $415 million for construction. The remaining dollars would cover land acquisition, various fees for financing, architecture and engineering, and some $20 million to relocate a utility substation.

A portfolio of tax revenues, all of which draw from the existing tourism industry, has been established to fund the project, the most prominent of which is the hotel-motel tax. Three percent of that would service the debt, which Metro estimates will shake out to around $40 million annually through 2043. Last year’s hotel-motel revenues were in the $25 million range.

There is also a unique arrangement called the Tourism Development Zone, in which a portion of sales tax revenue generated within the defined area would be allocated toward convention center funding. Assuming the future stays as sunny as the mayor’s office would like, Nashville could be looking at a hefty haul.

As well, there is a $40 million reserve fund from which Metro can draw to service this debt in the case of fiscal emergency.

To state the obvious, there is risk in any major civic project, especially one where the taxpayers are the stopgap. But there is simply no way we’ll fall 100 percent short on this bill. And if we’re shy here and there, chances are we’ll bounce back in due course. It is illogical to believe that Nashville’s tourism industry will suddenly begin a long, slow decline. To the contrary, a new convention center would provide a considerable boost to the sector — which employs close to 60,000 people in the Midstate — streaking smiles across a lot of weary faces.

The idea that we could simply spend the money elsewhere isn’t rooted in fact. Doing so would require, at the least, a change in state law. When was the last time the General Assembly reacted to a city issue with swiftness and aplomb?

In fact, most of the arguments we’ve seen against the convention center have been reductive and fear-based, which is no way to advance a world-class city.

To be sure, there are pertinent questions:

Is this something a city government should be doing?

If we agree the primary functions of Metro government are to provide public safety, good schools, adequate housing and an economy where its citizens can find both necessary services and quality jobs, then the answer is yes.

Can Nashville attract more than 20 percent of the convention market with a new, state-of-the-art facility?

We have to believe yes. Hold Music City up against Indianapolis, Cleveland, Charlotte, Cincinnati or Kansas City. There is mojo here, a cultural cachet for which most comparably sized cities lust. If you don’t believe that, go spend a weekend in Cleveland. Even the Browns are a rolling disappointment.

The vacancy here is the facility. There are already some 300,000 nights booked in hotel rooms contingent upon this project, not to mention the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2014. We don’t need a poll to know the majority of citizens can get behind that.

Will this benefit the local economy?

Without question. The mayor’s office is predicting $135 million of new spending in Davidson County as well as 1,500 new jobs. It will undoubtedly prop up local cultural institutions, like the Symphony, the Ryman, the Country Music Hall of Fame — because when you head to a convention, you always find something to do with your down time. Even the Predators and Titans stand to benefit.

And let us not forget the nifty local stimulus package that is the $415 million construction bill. We’re not sure anyone could argue against that and still contend to have a conscience.

Any city worth its world-class billing is going to take calculated risks to continue growing. City government must move alongside its citizens and businesses. Bringing more tourism to Nashville will benefit our infrastructure and help city government service a growing population. As Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling told The City Paper in a recent interview, “You either grow your economy or you tax your citizens in order to meet the needs of the government.”

We prefer the former.

26 Comments on this post:

By: MattCollins on 1/17/10 at 11:48

How nice that you're willing to put me and thousands of others in financial risk. I really appreciate it.

But this clearly violates individual rights because the majority cannot vote to take away the rights or property of the minority. Even if 50%+1 in Davidson County voted to go forward with this project it would not be legitimate because they would be exposing the rest of us to considerable risk. One question to ask is that "if it were to be profitable why isn't it already being done privately?"

Keep in mind that when the government taxes an activity (such as tourism), they get less of it. So while the forecasts of tourism might or might not be correct, if we n nickle and dime the tourists dry they will either visit a less expensive destination, or they will simply minimize their traveling.

Obviously if this monstrosity is constructed the county will have to incur debt. And while it pays the debt it must have income. If the income drops the reserve fund will only last so long before it runs out - it is finite. That means the government will be forced to raise taxes on the citizens of Davidson County.

It is NOT the function of government to gamble with our money. It is not the function of government to provide jobs and services. It is not the function of government to nanny us. The only legitimate functions of government are to secure individual rights, provide justice, and enforce contracts; the convention center does none of these things.

If the metro government wants to stimulate the economy they should instead cut sales and property taxes (spending would have to be axed too). Then those of us hard working Nashvillians can keep more of our own money.

By: CitizensWin on 1/18/10 at 6:43

CitizesWin Rally Announcement
For MCC Opponents by CitizensWin.org

Circle One Public Square
To Tell Metro No Thanks to MCC
Tuesday | January 19th | 5-8 PM

Light a Candle For Metro Council
Each of 600 Candles will represent 1 million dollars for the 600 Million Dollar Proposal. Forming a pie chart that represents the 72% of the public who wants a referendum this creating a V for Vote.

By: CitizensWin on 1/18/10 at 7:01

'Write Your Councilman'

Jan 15

'All Politics Are Local'
Local Politics Get Personal

Erik Cole better sit this vote out, abstain from voting on MCC on the 19th
Because his wife, Jennifer Gilligan Cole, was hired on December 19, 2009 in the middle of the vote gathering for MCC. Lobbyists from the Convention & Visitors Bureau helped hand-pick Ms Cole out of 400 applicants.

Consider it a $100,000 Christmas Present to the Cole Family Bank Account. If she stays on for ten years it's a million dollar Christmas Present. Plus Benefits.

Now if that is not a conflict of interest, I don't what is. On December 13th Carter Todd, a Gaylord Entertainment Co. executive, is expected to abstain from voting because his employer competes with Metro for conventions. Cole should do the very same thing. 

Regardless of Ms Cole's credentials it is only fair to ask for Mr Cole to step aside and not vote on Tuesday. He has already made is voice clear on supporting this nearly billion dollar blunder.




Jan 16

Thank you for your message about my vote on the Convention Center. I share your concerns about governmental ethics, as I believe my record in Council shows. I have consulted with legal counsel about the upcoming vote and they independently confirm that there is no conflict for me on this vote.

For votes or matters concerning the Metro Arts Commission, I plan to recuse myself from those votes. To clear up any confusion on those votes, I have requested an advisory opinion from the Council Board of Ethical Conduct to guide my future action on votes pertaining to the Arts Commission.

Thank you again,

Erik Cole
7th District, Metro Council


Jan 16

Mr Cole:

Thank you for you response. 

May I recommend that you abstain from this vote altogether on this Tuesday.
30 Years of the 'Our Future' as a City are in the balance. 

I hardly believe that an 'opinion' from Metro Legal is a fair opinion in this circumstance. It's like asking The Mayor for a by.

On the Other hand Carter Todd will not be requesting an Advisory Opinion from the Council Board of Ethical Conduct. You are making Decisions 'Now' about the Metro Arts Commission with your vote on Tuesday. How So? With general funds securing the loan, you are immediately putting  Metro Arts Commission funding at risk by voting Yes on Tuesday. 

If you can have 2 legal opinions rendered in the last 24 hours, I feel certain that you can have an opinion rendered by the Council Board of Ethical Conduct in the next 72 Hours. 

By: Karl_Warden on 1/18/10 at 7:34

Mr. Collins,
I think that after some reflection you might find that a majority vote is the very essence of how a constitutional form of government works.

Here is a link to what Nashville does with our tax dollars:


As you can see, the list is longer than yours, but it covers what we have come to expect of government. A city needs an infrastructure to function and support the economic activities of the city. Your list would leave us bereft of roads, power lines, garbage disposal, sewers, etc. Do you really think we could do without?

You speak of risk. Is it risk to create something that logic and studies tell us should bring more income into Nashville? We are at the intersection of three major interstates. We are within easy driving distance of a large number of population centers and we have a history of convention centers making money. Is there risk? Yes, but it is well within an acceptable range of risk for a government. And, assuming the projections are correct, a convention center will pump $135,000,000.00 or so into our economy each year. That means jobs. That means a government that might have enough money to function without raising taxes.

There is no risk in doing what you suggest - lowering taxes. There is a known downside - one that we have explored as a national economy over the last few Republican administrations. Lower taxes has always meant an economy headed further into increasing polarity. The few rich get immensely richer and the rest of us sink further down the economic ladder. Risk, you see, requires uncertainty about the outcome. Lowering taxes has lead to the same result every time, so there is no uncertainty.

Think of it this way. If we build a convention center that draws in folks from outside of Nashville to come here for conventions - and maybe stay to have a look around - our tax coffers will be filled by people other than you. Doesn't that make you happy?

By: trtay2004 on 1/18/10 at 8:01

I agree with the article. Our city will die if we do not invest in the future to make the rest of the country and world know how great we are. We have an excellent location for a convention as many companies are avoiding the Las Vegas mega convention center.

By: govskeptic on 1/18/10 at 8:13

As a "Fearbased" opponent of the MCC I am disappointed in both
the NCP endorsement and reasons for same. My seemingly fear
is mainly based on the projected revenue and attendees that
are projected for this facility. Government agencies of all stripes
don't hire consultants for truth but to agree with the outcome they
wish to achieve. The paste and add results of this study is just
a rehash of many others with the numbers changed to fit the
situation and cost involved. Additionally there has been far to
little shown or discussed about the true difference in continuing
with the current facility or the hugh expenditure and additional
number and size of the MCC. Using one NCAA tournment doesn't
quite do it for me! Dreams of a National Political Convention or
a World Cup Event will still be a dream with either facility.

By: willtw on 1/18/10 at 8:30

OK........let's build the convention center...How about a stipulation that exempts taxpayers from liability of default IF the center does not meet expectations? And a personal guarantee from each Councilmember voting aye on this project that they take individual and personal responsibility in a default situation, that they, their assigns, heirs, et al be held personally and financially responsible including the false " no new tax" promising Mayor?????????? No Public Forum or vote on the issues? Then the full responsibility for this project falls on the shoulders of Nashville government...How does that sound, Mr. Mayor?????????????? This is about as fair as the way you are handling this project!!!!! YOU and this Council will be HELD RESPONSIBLE!!!!!!!!!

By: wolfy on 1/18/10 at 8:47

If it's such a great idea, why isn't the one we already have filled? I always love to hear and see these excuses. I especially love to hear explanations as to why city departments are laying off people while we're building such a boondoggle.

By: idgaf on 1/18/10 at 9:25

How can this paper say vote yes on this boondoggle without a taxpayer vote when the first article today cites a 35 million dollar cut in the school budget and increased property taxes?

By: wasaw on 1/18/10 at 9:34

It was reported several weeks ago that former Metro Finance Director David Manning does not favor the MCCC project. I believe he served in that position for at least four years and maybe more. I'm trying to ascertain what information the present mayor and finance director have learned in one year that passed over Mr. Manning in four.

This is the most costly project Metro government has undertaken and it's not enough to "hope" the project will work and the income will come. Private business does not work on a "hope and a prayer". The data supplied by the firm hired by the mayor to reinforce support was obviously cut and pasted from their earlier reports for other cities.
They admitted that they never go back to their cities to see if their projections work. Wonder why?

By: UrbanNashvillian1 on 1/18/10 at 11:33

At least if the Council votes for this we know how to vote for every single one of them in the next election.

One must wonder if the proposed budget takes into account all of the money that Krooked Karl has promised all of his buddies at Friggin Foxin Spitup.

Please vote yes Council Members. It will ensure that you don't have to worry about going to Metro Council meetings ever again once we vote you out.

And yes, as one poster stated, I would hope that everyone who is for this quagmire of shady dealings put up their house, land, and bank accounts as collateral.

By: TITAN1 on 1/18/10 at 12:29

I know the "No" people want to vote on this, just as the "No" people wanted to vote on the stadium for the Oilers. I have a feeling it would be the same result. The majority of the "No" people speak out through the media while the majority of the "Yes" people spoke with their vote. In case anyone for forgot, the "Yes" won easily.

By: airvols on 1/18/10 at 1:03

Enough already! This thing has been studied to death. Thanks for taking a right step toward progress by writing this endorsement. Nashville is a great place and it will be even better once we have the vision of downtown complete. The people that oppose this project are the same ones that oppose LP Field, New Library, Predators, Gulch and anything that changes the status quo. Voting on every major project is not why you elect officials to represent you. The thought of having an individual right to vote on every issue you disagree with goes against the basic principle of representation. Our city will move forward, continue to grow and provide jobs and entertainment for the nation. This vision is more than the cost of the project it the cost of the future. "Build it and they will come"

By: kennyj on 1/18/10 at 1:04

Personally an endorsement by any media holds no sway.

As stated in another post we're looking at a property tax hike (which will happen one way or another) and now we are going to commit the taxpayers to more debt.
The NCP's rebuttal to the nay sayers is based on assumptions just as is the consultant's report, if this is valid then how is it the assumptions of those opposed to the Center are not valid?. This project stinks of the "Bredesen Bunker" syndrome.

By: kennyj on 1/18/10 at 1:05

Mr. Cole, legal doesn't mean moral. I find it had to believe that out of 400 applicants your wife was uniquely qualified for this position. A ploy to buy your vote, I suspect.

By: UrbanNashvillian1 on 1/18/10 at 1:05

Well I can't believe that Nashville was able to lure the Tebagger Convention at Opryland without a new Convention Center. Didn't anyone tell them that Nashville has nothing without the MCC.

Also, the "Yes" People don't live and work downtown like some of us do. But the "No" people will certainly let our votes be heard come the next election cycle. Bet it all on that!

By: nashtnman on 1/18/10 at 1:28

FOR SALE: Davidson county home on 1/4 acre of land, previous owner screwed to death by city government.

Has everyone had enough yet? Has your opinion of "those radical tea party nuts jobs" changed yet? This is only the beginning of the end for Davidson county residents. Currently the Belle Meade tax rate is lower than East Nashville tax rate thanks to the last "won't cost the tax payers anything" stadium project. I vote, and will continue to vote but those that did not vote, you have nothing to complain about. History is repeating itself and it is becoming a separatioin of "have" and "have nots". Get ready folks, there is a storm coming.

By: FAMUAce on 1/18/10 at 1:50

While I understand the merits of the MCC, there are so many questions that are not being answered. For instance, why is Metro entering into DIRECT COMPETITION with its major private tax payer? Is Metro prepared for fallout regarding this (i.e., Gaylord leaving town, Gaylord placing more investment into their plant and soundly taking all of the market share for themselves)?

By: Pmd12931 on 1/18/10 at 2:36

The CC is nothing but a monument to the Dean administration and full of hopes and promises while our schools suffer from lack of funds, and we might not get to officially get a chance to vote NO on the center, now, but we can certainly cast that NO vote in the next election and sweep the Council and Mayor's office clean and I hope the majority of Nashvillians against this project will not forget those YES voters and Dean rubber-stampers, including my 15th District councilman. The Nashville City Paper endorsement doesn't speak for the majority of Nashvillians.

By: localboy on 1/18/10 at 4:02

This opinion must have been written by the Post's resident Republican - the one that can't get enough of Harold Ford.

By: shef2 on 1/18/10 at 10:41

Hey, City Paper:
Do you READ the opinions of your READERS-?

By: sidneyames on 1/19/10 at 7:47

OK. Everyone who does not want it, including me, can be exempt from tax raises for the next 20 years. And we promise not to use it.

Those of you who want it, can belly up to the bar and double or triple or how about quadruple your tax obligation to make up for what we don't want to pay.

By: sidneyames on 1/19/10 at 4:44

By: trtay2004 on 1/18/10 at 8:01
I agree with the article. Our city will die if we do not invest in the future to make the rest of the country and world know how great we are.

Trtay, have you been asleep for your whole life? OUR city has been one of the greatest destination cities since I was a kid. Ever heard of the Grand Ole Opry? Yep and so has the entire planet.

By: koolbass on 1/19/10 at 5:15

When I learned the "anti" convention forces were being funded in a huge way by Gaylord, I realized this vote was more about stifling competition than about what is best for our city.


By: sidneyames on 1/19/10 at 6:19

Actually koolbass, I spoke with the Exec. Dir. of Gaylord and he was very positive and in favor of convention center. You might have your facts bass-ackwards. Call him. Call Gaylord and ask for Exec. Dir. Ask his take on it.

By: koolbass on 1/20/10 at 4:00


I received a flyer in my mailbox urging me to register my signature to bring the entire process to the local voters instead of allowing the council to decide, and this flyer, I found out after investigating, was produced and paid for by Gaylord.

I hate to pop your bubble, but someone is lying here, and I certainly know what I got in my mailbox, and who paid for the printing of the flyer.

Sorry about your mistaken "ass".

(And I also read about Opryland "delaying" a $20,000 payment to our local Chamber of Commerce because it supported the new convention center and Gaylord was not on board.)

The "exec. dir. of Gaylord" may say one thing, but his actions are speaking louder than his words to you.

And at this point, it appears to be a moot subject since our council voted to approve. I applaud them.