With the desired site for a convention center hotel apparently off the table, Mayor Karl Dean and his administration don’t appear to be eyeing any one parcel over others, and may be exploring more properties than observers had originally thought.
Project leaders had identified a 3.1-acre lot directly south of the Country Music Hall of Fame as the preferred location for a hotel adjacent to the proposed $585 million Music City Center, but Tower Investments, a development group that owns the parcel, spoiled those plans after announcing their own intentions to build a “high-end, mixed-use development” on the property conjointly with Barry Real Estate Cos.
Experts have said the hotel should ideally hold between 750 and 1,000 rooms, which could cost $300 million to erect.
In an interview with The City Paper, Dean called Tower’s proposal potentially “a great thing” in terms of complementing the convention center and ultimately “(Tower’s) decision,” adding that the administration has several good locations where they could build.
The two additional sites bandied around by project leaders had been the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Demonbreun Street and the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and the Korean Veterans Boulevard extension. Earlier this week, Dean stopped short of favoring either of these spots before indicating that his administration may be looking at any and all properties that border the footprint of the convention center.
“It depends how you define it,” Dean said of the number of possible sites. “There are locations all around the building. What we have to do is figure out what the best place is economically to make it work and what’s the best place for the private sector to encourage their investment.”
When asked if the Mayor’s Office has contacted any property owners besides Tower about purchasing land for the hotel, Dean paused. “I’ll just say this,” he said. “We are looking at every option we have.”
The mayor earlier this month unveiled a finance plan to pay for the Music City Center through a combination of taxes and fees that target tourists, but the package doesn’t include a companion hotel, a component most experts say is crucial to the center’s success. The Metro Council is set to vote on the financing at its Jan. 19 meeting.
Rather than bankrolling the hotel with public funds, Dean elected to continue negotiations with the Phelps Portman development team and Marriott Marquis hotel in hopes of inking a private or at least a public-private deal over the next year. If everything lines up for project leaders, the hotel’s construction would begin in 12 months or so and be completed simultaneously with the convention center by February 2013.
“Financing’s tricky given the economy, but there is a demand for a hotel,” Dean said. “I am confident that we will have an additional hotel. My preference is to see that hotel … have private financing be the predominant part of it. We’re in this good position time-wise in that it takes two years to build a hotel and three to build a convention center. We don’t have to rush and do something.”
Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling said pinpointing a final site for the convention center hotel will ultimately be critical in negotiations, adding that the “No. 1 issue” for any site is that it sit directly across the street from the convention center.
Riebeling said the administration has maintained a steady line of communication with representatives of Phelps Portman.
“I think the key next step is getting the hotel feasibility study finalized, which I think will happen some time in the next few weeks,” Riebeling said. “And from there we’ll begin to have more of the sites under control and then have Portman Phelps and Marriott begin looking at financing options.”
Riebeling said Metro wouldn’t seek to acquire any property for a hotel until the Council signs off on a plan to finance the hotel.
“By this summer we need to have things moving forward, not actual construction but know the site and have the financing plans underway,” he said. “That would be our hope, but we don’t control it completely.”