Nashville’s perceived “commitment” to building a new downtown convention center played a part in the recent decision of trade organization NAMM to bring a large convention back to Nashville after three years in other cities, according to a company representative.
But a NAMM official — as well as Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau — says parties on both sides understand that a new downtown convention center isn’t a done deal.
“We’re not selling something we don’t have,” said Spyridon. “It’s an ongoing process. We try not to lose touch with people who we know are good customers. … We can’t wait until we break ground to start marketing.”
Between 12,000 and 13,000 people are expected at 2008’s Summer NAMM event, including both exhibitors and attendees, according to Kevin Johnstone, director of trade shows for the organization. Johnstone believes the economic impact to Nashville of the event will total $17 million to $20 million. The 9,000-member NAMM is a leading trade association of the international music products industry.
Summer NAMM was hosted in Nashville for 12 years before moving three years ago. Johnstone said NAMM moved the event because Nashville’s facilities were too small for the organization’s needs at the time. The convention was hosted in Indianapolis one year, and in Austin, Texas, two years.
At the most recent Nashville-based Summer NAMM, hosted in 2004, the conference’s 516 exhibitors and 25,000 registered attendees used “every inch” of the Nashville Convention Center and then-Gaylord Entertainment Center, Johnstone said. And most exhibitors preferred to be in the “main” space, the convention center, where traffic was heaviest.
“We simply had outgrown it at that time,” Johnstone said. “The city was just no longer able to accommodate [us], and the use of the arena space’s satellite areas proved to be undesirable to a portion of our membership.”
NAMM’s conference is able to move back to Nashville in 2008, Johnstone said, in part because the conference has become smaller. Changes in music retail — including consolidation and market adjustments to Internet shopping — have resulted in what Johnstone considers to be a temporarily smaller event. In a few years, he believes, the conference will continue growing.
“We’ve seen fluctuations since our inception,” Johnstone said. “There have been periodic dips in sales, and typically they’ve been followed by a growth period.”
NAMM and its members prefer to host the convention in the same city each year. So news of Nashville’s growing commitment to a new facility boosted Nashville’s cause in getting NAMM back. Members also like Nashville, as it’s accessible, comfortable and a music-oriented city, Johnstone said.
“Its only shortcoming has been the lack of a large enough convention center,” Johnstone said. “While we expect a couple of cramped years, we look forward to a new convention center in a few years.”
Johnstone said NAMM is currently in negotiations with the CVB to secure contracts for 2009 and 2010. NAMM has publicly supported the construction of a new convention center through endorsement letters.
Spyridon said the “commitment” NAMM and other organizations may have taken note of was Metro Council’s recent approval of a set of taxes and fees imposed on tourists to finance a proposed convention center. FFA and the American Society of Association Executives are two other organizations watching developments closely.
A final decision from Metro about the proposed center is in the hands of a new Metro Council and mayor, both of which are still to be determined.
“NAMM’s taking a bit of a gamble with us, and we appreciate their confidence,” Spyridon said.