As expected, Metro’s Convention Center Authority voted unanimously Thursday morning to approve a finance plan to bankroll the $585 million Music City Center, electing to do so before hearing back from various bond rating agencies they'd solicited to discuss the project.
Thursday’s vote from the authority — an oversight body appointed by Mayor Karl Dean and approved by the Metro Council — moves the proposed convention center one step closer to reality, as it’s now up for a definitive council vote Jan. 19, when the massive project is expected to pass. If approved, the resolution would go back to the authority for a final legal ratification.
The plan approved by the authority would pay off the project’s $40 million in annual debt service through a combination of taxes and fees that target tourists. Non-tax revenues from Metro’s general fund would back up the revenue streams.
The finance package calls for selling two separate series of bonds to be underwritten by Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street bank holding company that would re-sell the bonds to investors based on rates determined during a marketing period.
Dean, Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling and others visited New York last month to meet with bond rating agencies that will place grades on the project’s bonds according to credit risk evaluation and other considerations.
According to Riebeling, the bond plan was “well received” from the rating agencies, but an official score won’t be ready until Jan. 14. Nonetheless, the nine-member authority — absent two members, who both offered letters of support — opted to hold the vote, and ultimately sign off anyway.
“It certainly would have been great if all the timing would have worked to have had [a bond rating] also,” said the authority’s chair Marty Dickens. “It would have been a nice, additional supporting aspect of moving forward with the project."
But, Dickens continued, “The experts that deal with this stuff … plus our own government officials who deal with bond issues all the time, felt very optimistic from the meetings in New York." Though, he added, "You could still be surprised.”
With the finance plan now moving forward, Dickens encouraged his fellow authority members to use “every opportunity to be advocates for the approval of this project by the Metro Council.”
A public hearing for the proposed Music City Center is scheduled for Jan. 11, with a council question-and-answer session set for Jan. 14.