Nashville took a critical $75 million step toward a new convention center on Tuesday when Metro Council passed a bill on second reading that will clear the way for land acquisition in the area south of Broadway downtown.
The bill will be on final reading at the June 2 Council meeting, which means there’s still one more hurdle to clear. On second reading, however, it received little debate.
The bill gives the Metro Development and Housing Agency $75 million for land acquisition. Council approved the bill with a 33-3 vote with four abstentions.
Council members Michael Craddock, Eric Crafton and Robert Duvall were the dissenting votes. Council members Mike Jameson, Emily Evans, Jason Holleman and Carter Todd, who works for Gaylord, abstained.
“You have to have the land obviously to do the project,” said Richard Riebeling, the Metro finance director and a top aide to Mayor Karl Dean. “It’s going to take a few months to acquire the property so you need authorization now to keep everything on schedule and on track.”
Advocates of the estimated $635 million Music City Center in SoBro have contended that it’s essential to begin land acquisition this summer so the project can be on schedule for its 2013 completion.
However, skeptics believe Metro Council is setting off down a slippery slope and won’t be able to go back once it gives final approval for land acquisition. Duvall called the approach “incrementalism” and said Council wouldn’t be able to reverse gears once the land acquisition was approved.
Jameson, Evans and Holleman have raised questions about the project, but all elected to abstain instead of voting against the bill on second reading.
At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry was among the members who said it was worthwhile to advance the discussion about the convention center. Some members believe the final vote could see more dissent.
“I’m pleased by the Council action, but there’s still a third reading vote and you take nothing for granted,” Riebeling said.
Crafton introduced an amendment to the land acquisition bill that would require a transparency Web site to be created so Nashville residents can track the tourism-related tax revenues as they come in along with expenditures for the project. Council approved the amendment and the Web site has a projected start-up date of Aug. 1.
Already Metro has spent $9 million in tourism taxes on the predevelopment phase of the project. Besides Music City Center, a public/private hotel will also be attached, Dean’s administration has said.
Riebeling said it would be about six months before the project had a hard guaranteed maximum price total.