Without any debate, Metro Council passed at its Tuesday meeting two pieces of legislation allocating $75 million to the Metro Development and Housing agency to begin purchasing properties in SoBro for eventual use as a new convention center.
Council approved the land acquisition with a 28-6 vote. The dissenting Council members were Michael Craddock, Pam Murray, Bruce Stanley, Emily Evans, Jason Holleman and Robert Duvall.
Two members who were absent, Mike Jameson and Eric Crafton, would likely have been dissenting votes as well.
MDHA will have eminent domain powers at its disposal as it jumps into purchasing the 16 acres in the footprint for the proposed Music City Center. The land is bordered on the west by Eighth Avenue, the north by Demonbreun Street, the east by Fifth Avenue and the south by what will become Korean Veterans Boulevard.
Metro has said it hopes to complete the land acquisition phase by late summer, but one attorney representing property owners said the legal process for eminent domain hearings can take quite a while.
The legislation received no debate on third and final reading, but a word of warning was offered by Duvall, who said, “I do not see where the numbers have matched.”
Some Council members have been critical of the step-by-step approach taken by the Mayor Karl Dean administration, which chose to purchase the land in SoBro before offering a comprehensive financing package for the convention center project. The latest estimate for the project sits at $635 million without factoring in the public/private hotel, which will be attached.
The $75 million for land acquisition will come from tourism taxes and fees approved by Council last year.
At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, who spearheaded a community forum on the issue of Music City Center, said she did not view a vote to approve land acquisition as a final vote supporting the project.
Questions have been raised as to what will happen if Metro purchases the land but ultimately doesn't pass authorizing legislation to build the convention center.
The state legislation enabling the creation of new tourism taxes and fees stipulated those revenues could only be used for a new convention center.
But Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper wrote in his legal analysis of the bill the debt could be retired on bonds issued to buy the property with the tourism taxes.
“Metro’s bond counsel has provided an opinion, which the council office is in agreement with, stating that the debt on the MDHA bonds may continue to be paid from the tourist accommodation taxes if the council later decides not to build a convention center, provided the property is not used for non-convention center purposes while the debt is outstanding,” the legislation analysis stated.
The Dean administration has not stated when it will have a financing package ready to present to Council.