Music City Center arrives to fanfare as debate still brews over viability

Friday, May 17, 2013 at 12:21am
51713 MCC lobby topper.jpg

The image of sound waves spreads across the carpet in the lobby of the Music City Cen.


It’s finally opening.

What started as primarily surface parking lots and a concept at the Metro Council is now an imposing, monolithic structure that encompasses three city blocks. It’s the result of Nashville’s largest-ever public investment.

But for all the size, the Music City Center, which is slated to open this weekend, also exhibits a noticeable amount of finesse. A $2 million budget for art allowed for unique touches throughout the building. The cavernous convention space, which is about as long as an aircraft carrier, contrasts to a top-level ballroom space that is made to resemble the inside of a guitar.

“One of the things I always was interested in was not seeing a box,” Dean told reporters after leading a media tour of the facility last week. “And by not having a box, I meant for the entire building. You see a lot of convention centers that have a lot of nice fronts, facades, and then they just turn into sort of a square. This building is not that.”

That’s evident in the pop-out lobby that emerges from the front of the building — dubbed “the whale” by the construction team — and features no square angles on the inside. Or the 14-acre undulating roof — designed both to represent the rolling hills of Tennessee and make the building more environmentally sustainable — that includes a 4-acre green portion composed of 14 different types of vegetation.

“This building is right in the center of our city,” Dean said. “It’s observable from a variety of buildings, from the interstate. It was important that it be something special.”

Even as the building prepares to open its doors to the public, debate still brews about the MCC’s viability in what some call an oversaturated convention center market. But standing in the belly of a building that will loom large in his legacy whether it’s a boom or a bust, Dean was all optimism.

“We’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “We’ll be fine. This is going to be a big success.”

Dean, and MCC officials, said the center allows Nashville to compete for more conventions with more attendees. There are already some “firmly booked” through 2026. And as for the hotel tax revenues that will be a vital part of paying off the debt on the building, Dean said that money has been there, and will continue to be.

“Nashville, before this center opens, has been setting hotel records for occupancy,” he said. “We have been setting records for collection of hotel-motel tax for several years now. Even during the recession. People want to come to this city.”

Sitting in close vicinity to Lower Broadway, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Bridgestone Arena and more, the MCC, according to Dean, is perfectly located to succeed in a city that is already successful.

“We’re going to do very well,” he said. “We’ve been doing well. We’re not asking the building to suddenly make Nashville a popular place to come to. It already is.”

Whether the building turns out to be a symbol of Nashville’s ascendancy or a hollow monument to a city that was late to the party, the true assessment will likely come after Dean leaves the mayor’s office.

Until then, all that’s certain is it’s finally opening. You can’t miss it.

Here’s a look at how we arrived here:



After discussion — and for some council members, dissension — the Metro Council approved funding for the Music City Center by a 29-9 vote on Jan. 10, 2010. But a key part of the vote to approve the MCC was the expectation that the old Nashville Convention Center would be repurposed into the Nashville Medical Trade Center, later known as the Med Mart.

As the Music City Center went up, plans for the Med Mart went the opposite direction. Dallas-based Market Center Management originally announced development of the Med Mart, which would have been a potentially lucrative marketplace and showroom for health care products, to open in 2013. A groundbreaking was scheduled in 2012.

Instead, Market Center Management struggled to find tenants for the Med Mart and they officially folded the plan in October 2012.

While Dean has insisted that the projects were always separate from each other, several council members have expressed concern that one happened without the other.

“I think the ability of the city to cover the debt service on the convention center was marginal,” Councilman Jason Holleman told The City Paper in October 2012. “And to me, if the Med Mart project was made possible as a result of vacating the convention center space, then I thought the project could work. But without that, I had and continue to have concerns about our ability to cover the debt service without relying on the fallback funding sources, such as non-tax revenues.”

The other controversy surrounding the Music City Center stemmed from the acquisition of land owned by Tower Investments. The city originally claimed the 6.6-acre parcel by eminent domain for $14.8 million.

But Tower Investments sued the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, claiming that the amount undervalued the land by $15 million. MDHA won an early ruling in Davidson County Circuit Court, but later a jury awarded Tower $30 million for the property.

An appeals court ruling on May 1 confirmed the validity of the jury trial. The land acquisition snafu officially put the Music City Center over budget.


Labor issues

Due to the size of the $415 million MCC construction budget, the Convention Center Authority faced intense scrutiny over the companies contracted for the construction.

The Music City Center was the site of several labor-related protests and demonstrations during its three-year build. Several local trade unions rallied in 2011 to protest the lack of local union workers at the construction site.

MCC spokeswoman Holly McCall told The City Paper in 2011 that roughly 50 percent of the workforce at the time was made up of local union members.

That wasn’t enough for some labor activists. Martin “Red” Patterson, the business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 369, filed an open records request asking for payroll documents, including addresses, of workers on the MCC site.

The Convention Center Authority responded by sending Patterson payroll papers with address information redacted. Patterson and the union sued in Davidson County Chancery Court for the full records. Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled in the union’s favor, but the authority appealed.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals also sided with Patterson and the union, issuing an opinion in January 2013. Deborah Godwin, the union’s Memphis-based attorney, told The City Paper that the Convention Center Authority is appealing to the Tennessee Supreme Court and hasn’t turned over any records.


Ancillary effects

The hope was that the Music City Center would help spur downtown development. One of the key moments came when the Metro Council approved in 2010 a public-private financing plan to build the Omni Hotel in 2010. The plan calls for more than $125 million in public financing, which will mostly come from a special hotel and tourist-based tax.

The Omni Hotel and the Country Music Hall of Fame reached an agreement later that year to create a seamless transition between the two structures. The hall is adding exhibit space and will operate an 800-seat theater adjacent to the Omni.

Other development around the MCC has cropped up. First Baptist Church reached an agreement to sell land at the corner of Eighth and Demonbreun for $11 million in February. The church said the area would be the future home to a Marriott hotel. Atlanta-based North Point Hospitality Group has already announced plans for two downtown Marriott hotels.

The Music City Center has also spurred the relocation of the Metro Nashville Police Department’s Central Precinct. The Central Precinct is scheduled to move from Bridgestone Arena to a new building near the Korean Veterans Boulevard Roundabout south of the Music City Center.


22 Comments on this post:

By: Loner on 5/17/13 at 5:03

The NRA, the KKK, the GOP and some other right-wing outfits might want to hold their conventions in a city that allows guns in bars.

Robber barons might wish to hold their conventions in a right-to-fire state that recently gutted its Workman's Compensation structure and has demonstrated its contempt for environmental laws.

Homophobes, Islamophobes and all-purpose xenophobes might want to convene at the Nashville MCC.....born-again militant Christians might opt for the place too.

But hurry, .....the meter is running.....that is one expensive white elephant....Good luck.

By: Loner on 5/17/13 at 5:49

Nashville's public school system is one of the worst performing systems in the, what does the mayor and his yes-men do? They build a half-billion-dollar convention center.

The birthers and some of these other lunatic right-wing fringe groups might want to convene in the new could become something of a mecca for the tin-foil hat crowd....once the rates are drastically reduced, in a desperate attempt to keep the doors open.

So, the plan is to hose the tourists, by way of a hefty tourism tax, so as to pay for this expensive tourist attraction....makes perfect sense.

Mayor Dean rolled the dice in this shaky real estate crap shoot....will it be boxcars....or snake eyes? Dean has bet the farm on come eleven!

By: Loner on 5/17/13 at 6:10

First Baptist Church reached an agreement to sell land at the corner of Eighth and Demonbreun for $11 million in February. The church said the area would be the future home to a Marriott hotel. Atlanta-based North Point Hospitality Group has already announced plans for two downtown Marriott hotels.

So, a tax-exempt entity is now playing Monopoly, with real money, in the real world....unreal.

They say that Jesus saves...but Moses invests.

By: Sylvan Park on 5/17/13 at 7:20

Sylvan Park

Doomed to failure on the unfortunate backs of Davidson County residents - due to: our unsophisticated council members, Mayor Dean's outrageous greed, and Shylock Butch Spyridon's dysfunction.

Can't wait to see what my money has bought me this weekend for our "free" (hah!) entertainment. Do you think parking will be provided for Davidson County residents?

By: BigPapa on 5/17/13 at 7:25

WOw loner you fired every bullet in the "i hate the south gun" you did miss one. You never mentioned how we all like to have sex with our siblings... har dee har har you know that one ALWAYS gets a big laugh. Do you ever get tired of flaming?

Any way.. we have it now. Personally I am seeing this as insurance against Gaylord. For those of us that actually live here, we are still feeling the impact of Gaylord closing the Opryland theme park on a whim. They could easily do the same with the hotel.

For a city that depends on tourism the convention center owned by the city assures that we are still in control of the situation and not at the whim of a company that has proven to be pretty shady. (see Opryland, see the "water park that never happened)

By: jwk6179 on 5/17/13 at 7:58

Any way.. we have it now. Personally I am seeing this as insurance against Gaylord. For those of us that actually live here, we are still feeling the impact of Gaylord closing the Opryland theme park on a whim. They could easily do the same with the hotel.

I thought Gaylord sold the Opryland Hotel, along with their simular hotels in Orlanda, San Antonio and a couple of other cities to the Marriott Hotel chain a few years ago. I was under the impression that the only things in Nashville that is still owned and controled by Gaylord are WSM-AM and the Grand Ole Opry.

Whose bright idea was it to hold the "FREE'' celebration concert with Sheryl Crow, The Time Jumpers featuring Vince Gill and the Fisk Jubilee Singer, along with Fireworks, on a Monday night, even before school is out for the year? There are a lot of people that work in Down Town Nashville that are going to have a hard time getting out of Down Town to go home because of street closings and a bunch of people converging on Down Town for a "FREE" concert, that if they are lucky, will hear both Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill and the TimeJumpers play maybe 2 songs a piece. Why not have it on Sunday night? Or wait until Memorial Day weekend, when school is out and everyone that works Down Town will be off?

By: nvestnbna on 5/17/13 at 8:14

Pretty lame description of "Ancillary Effects" ... "spurring downtown development". Each of the examples listed require heavy taxpayer incentives. Omni - $50m, Baptist property, if it happens, near $20m, Police Precinct $4m, plus parking which will run between $18k and $54k/mo going forward. Massive Metro spending by Metro in addition to the MCC, or as it has been promoted our "development engine" .... where is that can of ether, I can seem to get this engine started.

By: GrantHammond on 5/17/13 at 9:01

All this negative rhetoric seems eerily similar to the Titan's Stadium and arena comments from decades ago. Clearly, those public financed projects failed miserably and Nashville is much worse off than it was prior to the rehabilitation of downtown. BTW - property values in this district have almost doubled in 5 years, do you think that additional property tax revenue is an ancillary effect? I should think so. I would also think the two hotels North Point is developing on KVB, The Hyatt Place and the Chartwell Hilton on KVB are also ancillary effects. Those are just the known projects. If you believe the rumor mills, Nashville will also be announcing a Westin within the next 6 months. I suspect we will look back in 5 years and praise the Dean administration for furthering what his predecessors put into motion 2 decades ago.

By: Loner on 5/17/13 at 9:16

The MCC is insurance against other city ventures that have failed? Whoever sold you that policy is a salesman's salesman.

By: dargent7 on 5/17/13 at 9:18

What a bunch of girlie whinners.
The MCC is beautiful and will bring in tens of thousands to dtwn businesses, ie., the local economy. And you're worried about parking? Pay for it and walk 4 blocks. Get off your fat asses.
What do you guys want?
Bud Adams brings a NFL team to Nashville and you bitch.
Mayor Dean gets this building pushed thru and you bitch.
He installs bike lanes and you bitch.
All you don't cry about is carrying a gun into a bar, a park, and in your trunk.
Stop complaining and maybe your kids will not come in 48th out of 50 states for intellect. But, #2in the nation for meth labs is always a reward.
Jeez...what a city.

By: Loner on 5/17/13 at 9:27

So...the MCC will bring up property values in the vicinity, thus increasing tax tax revenue, from the properties in that area, (but not from the city-owned MCC itself), and the Tourism Tax are supposed to pay for all this....those tax revenues and the rental space income are supposed to be the economic engines pulling the train in Nashville, TN?

They should play, The Wreck of Old 97 when the conductor yells, "All aboard the Mayor Dean Express!"


By: Loner on 5/17/13 at 9:31 and Jugs...what's with the "girlie" stuff? With Jugs, it's his can do better than, "girlie"....just sayin'....old friend.

I hope that you are right and this thing is a boom, not a bust.

By: nvestnbna on 5/17/13 at 10:14

Grant, my comment was mostly on the lameness of the article in only pointing out "ancillary effects" that were city funded. Outside of the Hyatt, none of the projects you mentioned have broken ground or been permitted. Maybe as you said this will become the land of hotels, our own "music valley drive" downtown, I certainly hope so.

By: Inglorious bastard on 5/17/13 at 10:42

To the naysayers: stay stuck in your suburban lifestyles and leave the city to us urban dwelling people who decided a long time ago to invest in our city. Grant Hammond is right. I have already made close to $50,000 on my condo investment.

It is always the same Tea Party types that don't want to spend money on anything but guns and god. Stick with your guns and religion and let the rest of us actually live our lives. Those of us in the city embrace life. We don't run away form it. The MCC is a world class piece of architecture that people from around the world will use.

It was a wise investment and eventually hotels, condos, retail and other entities will surround the MCC. You guys can stay at home while the rest of us enjoy the new 21st Century Nashville!

By: Sylvan Park on 5/17/13 at 12:03

Sylvan Park

Inglorious, with your upcoming tax increases: I hope you can enjoy all the nights out that you wish. Good luck on that condo investment.

By: BigPapa on 5/17/13 at 12:17

I'd rather the city have something like this than spend money on sports teams. I know the cat is outta the bag on that, but those are private business that get us to pay for the costs of their teams while they rake in the profits.

This allows the city to host big events and bring people to Nashville. I was in Phoenix a few yrs ago and they had at least 5 big events going in and around their convention center, and that was just a random weekend in Jan. I can see why cities fund these ventures.

The next thing Dean needs to do is get the homeless shelter out of there. And close the race track and bulldoze the fairgrounds back to dirt.

By: Ingleweird on 5/17/13 at 12:39

WARNING: Actual Facts Here

1) Free Parking at MCC for opening festivities
2) NRA (groan) has already booked for 2015. Old news.
3) Gaylord sold the MANAGEMENT of Opryland to Marriott, but Gaylord still owns the property. Old news.
4) Revenues from companies booking at MCC will fund the operation (personnel, upkeep) instead of drawing it from the city's General Fund.

Folks, this project has been in the works for well over a decade, probably before Dean even considered running for mayor. If they used 30-year bonds, that's a hell of a long time to hold a grudge against this place; time will tell whether this was a solvent investment.

By: BigPapa on 5/17/13 at 12:55

I know it was planned during Purcell's administration. I was dealing with the old convention center and was told that they didnt need to make certain replacements/improvements because "this place wont be here." That was like 2005 or 2006.

By: Ingleweird on 5/17/13 at 1:57

BigPapa: Perhaps Purcell knew this project was looming just around the bend, didn't want the NCC expense to affect his budgets, and decided to pass the buck (so to speak) to his successor. Of course this is speculation, but if he was elected in 1999 and this project was created during his administration then you could argue that this has been over a decade in the making. Either way (do we need to debate whether it was a decade or not?), Dean inherited this project, and of course, business has a tighter grip on politics in this town than the citizenry, so it makes sense that Council approved it with virtually no opposition. Of course, the Med Mart was a great red herring for the project's approval.

By: jefaye on 5/20/13 at 9:15

To all the Nay-sayers,

You are the same people who said the following:

* Nashville will never have a major-league sports team here.
* Nashville is the buckle of the bible-belt. Hockey won't ever survive here.
* I like the Nashville of the 1970's - it was nice and quiet so I guess I will have to go to Memphis or Atlanta to have something to do.
* First American, Commerce Union, Third National, Ford Glass and Dupont own this town and they make decisions that are good enough for us.
* The music business will only grow so-much. We don't want to turn Nashville into Las Vegas (or even a newer, cleaner and more vibrant Nashville for that matter).

Get over yourselves. Nashville left you all behind in the rear-view mirror years ago. More than half of your neighbors are from another state or country. This is not a city for people who want to live in the staid, stale and stuffy world of the Old Nashville circa 1975. You have two choices - stay and embrace what Nashville has become, or just get out of the way while it moves forward.

By: JeffF on 5/20/13 at 4:05

When did the convention industry supporters get to kidnap the Titans and Preds issues as proof that they are right and the rest of us are always wrong. I supported the arena and stadium (not the locations) but have never supported the lecherous convention industry. But is some diseased mind I was somehow reverse engineered into being backward instead well educated.

If supporters of convention and tourism were better educated on business and economics they would be in industries with better prospects and with more potential. Instead, they rely on an industry that relies on tax collections to keep be properly equipped. When those taxes are not enough they pass fees on everyone so the conventions will not have to pay rent. Sports teams are not that bad off, just hospitality and meetings.

Pity the poor "businessperson" who thinks the 13 largest industry employer (and lowest paying) in Nashville needs more investment to make us all look good. They were busy planning fraternity and sorority mixers while the rest of us went to economics and business classes.

By: JeffF on 5/20/13 at 4:09

I am still laughing at the last sentend by jefaye. Apparently we are supposed to be proud of becoming a city of hotel maids and part-time banquet servers, because those are the only things booming with a convention center. That is some serious short-sighted economic policy there Jefaye.

I await your counter argument about how this will benefit waitresses, parking valets, and cab drivers too. I doubt you will see the irony.