There are differing points of view among Metro Council members whether a vote to approve land acquisition in SoBro is a definitive vote on the proposed $635 million Convention Center.
Mayor Karl Dean’s administration maintains Metro Council’s vote to approve the Metro Development and Housing Agency to begin land acquisition is simply the next step in the process and not a final decision on Music City Center.
“Clearly we’ve said there are going to be numerous opportunities to vote on this going forward,” said Richard Riebeling, Metro’s finance director, said. “It’s not the definitive vote, it’s another in the process.”
The state law creating the tourism accommodation taxes that will be used to finance the project are specifically for a Convention Center, but Metro Council’s legal counsel, Jon Cooper, said he was looking into the question of whether the land could be used for something besides a Convention Center.
Riebeling said Metro’s bond attorneys intend to draft a letter stating it was permissible to approve land acquisition before the final financing is approved.
Still, concerns do persist whether the tourism taxes that will provide the revenue to acquire the land can be used for anything other than a Convention Center. If the land can only be used for a Convention Center, then approving up to $75 million for land acquisition could be viewed as the critical vote, according to some Council members.
“If we’re going to spend $75 million of taxpayer money, we aren’t doing it to speculate on land,” District 23 Councilwoman Emily Evans said. “We’re doing it to build a Convention Center.”
But District 7 Councilman Erik Cole disagreed and said a step-by-step approach to the deal made the intricacies of the project easier to digest. Cole said he didn’t view a vote on land acquisition as sending Council down a path, where there was no going back.
Council unanimously approved the predevelopment phase of the project last year.
“I’m not naïve enough to think we’re not moving towards approval,” Cole said. “But it’s sort of nice to be able to decide at each point.”
District 35 Councilman Bo Mitchell said at some point Council members had to decide whether they are philosophically for a new Convention Center, or not. Mitchell said he was comfortable voting ‘yes’ on the land acquisition, even if it meant there was no going back.
“I really don’t have concerns,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to go through this process, we’ve got to acquire the land. I think if someone has in their mind that they’re not going to be for a convention center, then they probably shouldn’t be for buying the land for the convention center.”
There are two pieces of legislation in front of Council at the April 21 meeting, one would approve contributing the funds for land acquisition and the other would authorize an inter-governmental agreement with MDHA to start the process.