Convention center funding plan flies through committees

Friday, January 15, 2010 at 12:15am

A resolution approving a finance plan to fund a $585 million convention center easily cleared two Metro Council committees Thursday, paving the way for next week’s definitive vote.

The nod of approval came despite continued questions over the credibility of an HVS Consulting feasibility study, a report used by project supporters — including Mayor Karl Dean — to justify the viability and financial soundness of the proposed Music City Center.

The resolution cleared the Council’s Budget and Finance Committee by a vote of 9 to 1, with Councilman Michael Craddock the lone dissenter. The council’s Convention, Tourism and Public Entertainment Facilities approved the plan unanimously, 7 to 0.

Even project skeptics say it will pass the full council Tuesday.

“Let’s don’t fool ourselves about this,” Craddock said. “This train has left the station. It’s got a full head of steam because the haves in this city want this to happen.”

Under the finance plan, a combination of taxes and fees that target tourists would over time pay off bonds used to bankroll the project. Non-tax revenue from Metro’s general fund would back up the bonds. There is also a $40 million reserve fund set aside to cover shortages. Only after that is expired would general fund dollars be used.

Prior to the vote, Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling released bond-rating scores assigned by three different agencies, all giving the project’s two separate bond series positive marks.

He also acknowledged Fitch Ratings’ move a few hours earlier to put Metro’s existing debt on "rating watch negative," with the ratings agency’s analysts saying they might downgrade those bonds if new convention center debt is backstopped by general fund revenues. Riebeling called the move “disappointing” but said it didn’t matter much in the bigger picture. 

“Is there a risk? Of course,” said At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry before voting for the plan. “But in my analysis, I conclude that the risk is manageable — not trivial, not minimal, but manageable. I see that as a risk worth taking in order to achieve the economic development outcomes that are realistically in the cards.”

At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, who also voted for the resolution, asked his colleagues to consider the damage done by abandoning the project altogether.

“I truly believe that if we don’t build this center, two, three, four, five six years from now, our citizens will be worse off,” he said.

Still, several council members — mostly those who don’t serve on either committee — continue to voice concerns about the consulting company that conducted a report on Music City Center’s feasibility.

Councilman Mike Jameson, who earlier this week pointed out identical language used in HVS studies that deal with different cities, continued down the same logical path, this time pointing out reports on convention centers in Dallas, Kansas City and San Antonio that all happen to forecast the same number of delegates: 911,360.

Tom Hazinski, managing director of HVS, said he didn’t work directly on any studies for the cities Jameson mentioned and could not explain the oddity.

“How much are we paying you, Mr. Hazinski?” Jameson asked.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Emily Evans alerted her colleagues to an HVS report on the feasibility of a convention center in Overland Park, Kan. The study projected a convention center room-night count that fell well short of the actual number tabulated by that city’s convention center and visitors bureau.

Hazinski said the comparison isn’t valid because the HVS study takes into account hotel-room bookings made through a wide-range of outfits. “The numbers that are counted are not comparable to what our forecasts are,” he said. “They are not apples-to-apples comparisons.”

Councilman Eric Crafton, who officially announced Thursday he plans to vote against the finance plan next week, asked Hazinski if he’s ever gone back to forecasted projects to review the outcomes.

Hazinski said he had on only one occasion, at the behest of a client, explaining it is not standard in the industry to follow up. The process of comparing actual numbers to projected ones is “actually quite involved” and time-consuming, he said.

“If you’ve never gone back and looked, how can you improve?” a bewildered Crafton asked. “How do you even know if what you’re doing is right?” 


27 Comments on this post:

By: CitizensWin on 1/15/10 at 1:18

'Money doesn't talk,it swears'
Bob Dylan

The next song Metro will be singing is 'Born To Lose'

By: bfra on 1/15/10 at 3:36

Eight of these council members are on both committies! Cole, Forkum, Garrett, McGuire, Page, Steine, Toler & Tygard. So what could the taxpayers expect? After the next election, I hope these names will no longer be on the council list. The taxpayers need to take a strong stand and get rid of the elected officials that do not represent the majority but represent their own selfish agendas.

By: idgaf on 1/15/10 at 5:25

They still didn't say if they ever recommended NOT building any facility.

By: Pmd12931 on 1/15/10 at 7:19

Why can't we see the names of those on both committees and how they voted on Thursday night? We already know the name DEAN, so we can remember that when election time comes, but please provide the council member names and how they voted, and do the same on Tuesday night, so we can remember those voting with the mayor and not with the citizens, mostly who oppose the center.

By: willtw on 1/15/10 at 7:34

I sent an email one week ago to each of the Councilpersons now sitting in Nashville government basically asking if they individually could invest their OWN money in such a project if this project were privately financed. ONLY ONE REPLY and it was a standard reply sent to anyone writing them individually. Megan Barry was the only responder and her's was a format reply also sent to others. It is apparent that in these economic times, no one is reviewing the failures of convention complexes built recently, viewing the history of such projects and are showing only one side of the issue. The other question was how many supporters of the center live outside Nashville/Davidson County BUT earn their living through convention/meeting events? No one wants to deny Nashville nor impede progress BUT this whole project seems very one-sided. Whatever the cost for a public vote would be petty cash against the price of construction and overall continuing maintenance. We have Opryland Hotel complex, one of the very best in the US...FOLLOW THE MONEY...WHO will benefit directly? Why no private investment? WHY must government always step up to the plate? Who pays if failure occurs down the road?

By: CitizensWin on 1/15/10 at 7:51

'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 hand-picked 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, expected to abstain from voting because his employer competes with Metro for conventions.

It is only fair to ask for Mr Cole to step aside and not vote on Tuesday night.
He has already made is voice clear on supporting the billion dollar Music City Center. Regardless of Ms Cole's credentials for her newly minted Metro Arts job
Cole needs to step aside

Join us for the Rally at the courthouse and light a candle for the council persons, that are completely in the dark

By: producer2 on 1/15/10 at 8:01

She was hired to be the Executive Director of the Arts Council. Her resume includes the following:

Cole worked as vice president of strategy and planning for Atlanta-based Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network.

She has the background and the ability to lead this organization. She was selected from a list of 3 finalists. This was NOT voted on by any lobbyist from the CVB. Gaylord made a public statement yesterday that they do not oppose the MCC. They do oppose a publicly financed hotel.

By: JohnR on 1/15/10 at 8:03

4th district Councilman Michael Craddock was the only no vote. I bet he felt lonely. Thank you Michael Craddock for standing up for the people. We will not forget you.

By: JohnR on 1/15/10 at 8:06

Producer, what about Jane Alvis, the chair of the arts comm. She is also a lobbyist for the MCC

By: JohnR on 1/15/10 at 8:22

CitizensWin, don't forget about Carl Burch. The council website says that he is vice president of automatic elevator company. I'll bet my last dollar he votes yes. do you think his company will be getting the new MCC and Hotel elevator contracts?

By: dman on 1/15/10 at 8:25

Thank goodness they voted yes. The convention center needs to be downtown, not at Opryland. No one wants to go out there. Downtown needs to remain the center of these events. This has always been a tug of war with Gaylord, not whether or not we need one at all. Why would Gaylord be willing to spend $400 million to expand their facility if they did not think it would work? If MCC dies, wait for Gaylord to announce their own expansion in about a year when the economy gets a little more steady. This is what's best for Nashville, not Gaylord's lobbyists, aka: Nashville Priorities, which is not at all about what's really best for our city.

By: idgaf on 1/15/10 at 8:35

Breaking up Metro is getting pretty tempting. Downtown seems to be the pimp that takes all the money from the girls.

By: willtw on 1/15/10 at 8:46

It will be interesting to see WHO buys the bonds to finance this project....what if the bond sale does not meet minimums? How many Nashville banks (not many local left) will rise to help underwrite the center? Why is there such animosity toward the Gaylord-Opryland hotel complex from Nashville downtowners? Over the past 10 years, I have attended 4-5 meeting conventions all at Gaylord-Opryland. All very large, groups from industry. There was a lot of travel from the hotel to downtown, visiting resturants and sites in towntown Nashville. I cannot understand why, with Gaylord in Davidson County/Nashville, that a spirit of (not competition) opposition exists between downtown and on Briley Parkway. Can anyone explain to me why another large covention complex is needed, especially in these fiscally difficult months, committing huge amounts of money when Nashville has a mountain of needs in infrastructure, schools, public works, and roads?

By: dogmrb on 1/15/10 at 8:46

Where do you live idgaf? In Davidson County or just outside the county line?

Jennifer Cole was the right choice and has the integrity, experience and credentials to do the job. Why should it matter who she is married to? In most deliberations being married to a person of public note can be a negative not a positive, particularly for a woman these days. The unfounded comments above are exactly the concern that search committees must consider.

By: Pmd12931 on 1/15/10 at 9:38

dman, what is your interest in the center? You are happy, I guess, to pay the upkeep on LP Field and the downtown center, and will be doing so on the center also. Thank goodness for Michael Craddock and other council members who represent the thoughts of the majority of the citizens and is not willing to be a rubber stamp for Dean.

By: govskeptic on 1/15/10 at 9:39

The Vice-Mayor did her part just as she was instructed to: Appoint only members
of the Budget-Finance and Tourism Committee's that will vote yes on Metro and
Tennessee's most expensive building ever. Of course, Councilman Craddock
rightly voted "NO" but all the rest voted yes including Mr. Cole. At large
councilman Tygard although asking no questions concerning the project gave
his usual Chamber, Beaman, and other donators speech that was mostly
ilrevelant to the subject.
It's pathetic how uninformed most of these council members are. It has been
obvious from the beginning that 95% of the members have done no independent
educating themselves on any aspect of this project cost, necessity, risk, other
than will minorities be hired and it's a sure thing from the administration.
Much thanks should go out to both Jameson and Evans for what they have
done and contributed no matter ones feelings of where it should or shouldn't
be built.

By: bfra on 1/15/10 at 9:49

pro2 - how much money are you investing?

By: nashtnman on 1/15/10 at 10:00

Here are the people, with few exceptions that have betrayed the people of Davidson County:

Erik Cole - Chair
Greg Adkins - Vice Chair
Jim Forkum
Tim Garrett
Lonnell Matthews
Sean McGuire
Anna Page
Ronnie Steine
Parker Toler
Charlie Tygard

Ronnie Steine - Chair
Megan Barry
Erik Cole
Michael Craddock
Jim Forkum
Tim Garrett
Jason Holleman
Jerry Maynard - Vice Chair
Sean McGuire
Anna Page
Rip Ryman
Parker Toler
Charlie Tygard

God help us all.

By: Eleanor A on 1/15/10 at 10:09

This whole thing is nothing but Karl Dean's scheme to become Governor. Lots of folks apparently think the Nashville mayoralty is now the stepping stone toward exactly that (and you have to be a Dem to win here, thus all these pro-business folks claiming to be lefty Democrats).

Anyway, Dean sees Bredesen's having pushed through the Titans Stadium project, and thinks this convention center will affect his fortunes similarly.

Shame on all the folks who ought to be asking better questions on this, and have dropped the ball.

(really? No public transit here to speak of, crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, and our elected officials think spending $1 billion on a convention center is a good idea?

What planet are they all from, again?)

By: producer2 on 1/15/10 at 10:16

You are once again way off base with your facts.Ask Concilman Crafton if he knows the difference between the economic spending report and the financing report? He did not seem to at the meeting last Monday. Of course in your world all (which we are finding out is a small number) of the opponents on Council are only "doing this for the people" and have no other agendas.

By: Dragon on 1/15/10 at 10:43

So, HVS does the feasibility study and is used as justification for building this massive project.

But, validating their estimates and feasibility studies is "not standard in the industry", so they have no idea if their studies are even close to accurate.

So, the question remains unanswered - how much did Metro pay for these guesses and why would they be any better than the person on the street?

By: Pmd12931 on 1/15/10 at 10:57

Thank you nashtnman for the info I thought the Tennessean and Nashville City Paper would give us. Now, we know them and can put the skids under all of them except Craddock, who was thoughtful enough of the citizens, to cast a NO vote. This is the same bunch of Dean rubber stampers that will vote YES on Tuesday. Don't forget these names, Nashvillians, and Dean will give them a job at the convention center.

By: CitizensWin on 1/15/10 at 12:32

Eric Cole | Carter Todd | Quid Pro Quo

Or Carter Todd Steps in an votes and represents his district as he should anyway.

By: CitizensWin on 1/15/10 at 12:36

By: producer2 on 1/15/10 at 10:16

'the opponents on Council are only "doing this for the people"
and have no other agendas.'


No trues words have you spoken. In my case that is absolutely true

Light a Candle For Metro Council
To Vote No to the Music City Center

On Tuesday January 19th, Join Us at
One Public Square ( Metro Courthouse )
Music City Center Opponents are encouraged to attend a rally to place a
candle on the courthouse lawn during the hours of 5pm-8pm.

Metro Council is voting on nearly one billion dollars of indebtedness
for over 30 years. Show them the light.

Did you know that
72% of Citizens Polled want a vote on the matter while only
So what does council do last night?

Last Night Jan 14
They obstruct, block and vote against any chance for referendum 9 to 1 IN COMMITTEE

25% Of The Metro Council Blocked A Public Referendum


26% Citizens Polled support the construction of the Music City Center!



Bring A Candle on The Courthouse Lawn
And tell the Metro council NO THANKS


Write your councilman or better yet your lobbyist

By: TITAN1 on 1/15/10 at 12:39

And for everyone who is for the MCC remember Craddock who did not vote for it! LOL!

By: govskeptic on 1/15/10 at 5:43

Producer2: You are a paid propagandist that has attacked every sentence of every
critic of the MCC. Your pretense of just being a regular supporter of this project is
a LIE and all who reads this knows better. This mistake will pass the Council by
a wide margin. Motives of those voting in favor: Most are sheep wanting to go
along to get along. A few are too stupid to know whether to sh---or wind their
watch (which happens to include my own) . Some want to be "Insiders" with the Mayor and downtown business establishment. About 5 on the council would rightfully like to see this as a vote by the co-signing taxpayers. My thanks to

By: producer2 on 1/15/10 at 5:49

There are plenty on these boards who know me personally and they all know I am not paid, but you are right, it will pass....