The leader of a citizen-led group working in opposition to Music City Center said he plans to hand the Metro Council more than 8,300 petitions signed by Nashvillians demanding a public referendum on whether to finance the proposed $585 million convention center with city-backed funds.
Kevin Sharp of Nashville’s Priorities said he would turn over the petitions to the council clerk’s office Tuesday afternoon. He said he hopes the move would convince council members to schedule a public vote on the project. The council is expected to approve the convention center’s financing at its regular meeting tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. The proposed funding would come from a potpourri of tourism taxes. If those fail to cover the debt service on the loan, and a $40 million reserve fund is exhausted, taxpayer money would be used as a backstop.
“This [petition drive] is just another tool for the council to look at this and go, ‘People want to vote,’” Sharp said. “I find this hard to ignore.”
Sharp, who has been leading the petition drive, said the tally should increase once a final shipment arrives in tomorrow’s mail and is added to another stack collected during a canvassing rally held over the weekend. His group promised in December to deliver some 25,000 signatures to the council.
He said the petitions reflect sentiments revealed in a recent WSMV-Channel 4 poll, which showed 72 percent of those asked supporting a public referendum on the Music City Center and only 26 percent approving of financing plans for a new convention center.
If a referendum were held, the council would not be bound to act. Instead, petitions rely on a Metro Charter clause that says the council can call an election “for the purpose of ascertaining the will of the qualified electors” with respect to issuing any government bonds.
“It would be a non-binding vote, but for practical purposes, it would be hard for the council to say, ‘Yes, we want you to vote, but we’re going to ignore what you say,’” Sharp said.
Two council committees last week overwhelmingly shot down a resolution filed by Councilman Eric Crafton that called for a public referendum on the proposed convention center based on the same “will of the people” clause cited by Nashville’s Priorities.
Sharp said he’s not discouraged by the committee defeats.
“I know who sits on those committees,” he said. “I knew that wasn’t going anywhere.”