Riebeling: Convention center PR contract 'maybe not the best'

Monday, August 10, 2009 at 7:22pm

The proposed $635 million convention center project could soon have a brand-new nine-member board overseeing its development.

Mayor Karl Dean submitted legislation Monday to create a new Convention Center Authority, which would oversee the development of the proposed Music City Center project. State legislation passed this session authorized the creation of the Convention Center Authority.

“While the process of forming the Convention Center Authority has been in place since state legislation was filed in February, recent concerns about the communications contract for the project underscore the value a nine-member board will bring to managing a development of this size,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said in a release.

Riebeling admitted news reports surrounding the communications contract “accelerated [filing the Convention Center Authority legislation] by a couple of weeks."

“This was always the plan,” Riebeling said. “At some point in time, once the budget was done, we would bring creating the authority to Council for approval.”

Last year, MDHA amended the communications contract for Music City Center from $75,000 to make it open-ended. Since that time, the public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox billed the city for over $450,000 for communications work for the project.

This outraged Metro Council members, including District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson, who has called for a public meeting to review invoices turned in by the PR firm.

Dean suspended the use of McNeely, Pigott & Fox and instructed MDHA to submit all predevelopment-related invoices to Metro Finance for approval.

Riebeling said he was in the very early stages of reviewing the invoices, but added it did not appear “anybody did anything wrong.”

“The way the contract was set up was maybe not the best,” Riebeling said.

At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard said Council deserved a full accounting of MDHA’s management of predevelopment activities before it moved to create the new Convention Center Authority.

“We need to get some information regarding what happened,” Maynard said. “I’m not against establishing the commission, but there are some things Council needs to know before we move forward.”

Maynard said Council would have a critically important job approving the nine-member board, because the Convention Center Authority will be overseeing a project that some estimate will reach nearly $1 billion. Besides Music City Center itself, a public/private hotel has also been proposed for the project.

Metro Council will consider the resolution to create the new board at its Aug. 18 meeting.

The nine board members will be recommended by Dean and then approved by Metro Council. The Convention Center Authority will also have a staff once it is created — the Metro Finance Department will provide staffing help until that time.

Metro Development and Housing Agency is managing the predevelopment phase of the proposed convention center project.

Finance Director Richard Riebeling said it would take several months to transition overseeing the project from MDHA to the proposed new Convention Center Authority.

The Music City Center project still needs financing approval from Council. The Dean administration has said it would have a financing package for Council to consider in the coming months.

Funds for predevelopment activities and land acquisition, which Council approved earlier this year, come from tourism taxes and fees created in 2008. So far, MDHA has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities. Council allocated another $75 million for land acquisition.


24 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 8/10/09 at 8:24

Once again, wouldn't it be moral to not spend all this time and money on peripheral items and instead approve the project itself with financing. I think the mayor and his bosses could admit they have been trying to corner the commission with sunk costs and start doing everything above board. You know, just like they would do with any other project. Reserving it for the unpopular ones you are trying to keep off referendums just is slimy.

Just in case you were wondering about the delay, the market is still a long way for buying bonds with poor dedicated funding sources. But that will not prevent them from rushing thru that was supposed to be done 8 months ago. That gives them the argument that any delay by voters would be harmful and a waste of money already spent. Of course that was an point invented by MPF during the anti-English campaign so the mayor would have to give them more money to use that chestnut again.

By: slzy on 8/10/09 at 10:45

actually,before English only there wasblue green Nashville Yes! for the oilers.

deans puppet master bredeson said a deal like the oilers only comes along once in a millenium,but act now!

and then,it turned out Mr. Haney happened to find one more NFL franchise out in the lot that had been over looked,and Houston did'nt have to wait the millenium to get such a deal.

wise up,suckers.

By: TITAN1 on 8/11/09 at 4:54

It was a once in a lifetime deal for Nashville. Thank you, Nashville, Mr Adams, and then Mayor Bredeson!

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 6:34

showing those true colors again......

By: govskeptic on 8/11/09 at 7:17

Excuse the skeptic in me, but a Convention Center Authority sounds premature for a BILLION dollar project that the Council/nor citizens has not voted to approve. This appears to be a quasi-government agency to get around the accountability of
problems and cost overruns our elected officials should be responsible for. The Mayor can't stand the heat on this, so he put that on his APPOINTED authority. And of course the finance director finds nothing wrong in going from $75,000 to 450,000 on the PR contract. That folks is the true colors of this project.

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 7:19

I noticed we haven't seen the words "Nashville NEEDS a new convention center" in a while. Did a focus group come back that "need" was an inappropriate choice of words when it applies to billion dollar fluff projects?

By: Time for Truth on 8/11/09 at 7:55

Piggies at the trough. After MP&F it will be someone else, they'll just have to be buddies with those selected for the Convention Center Authority.

I've talked to one person that is for the giant albatross, a few that are undecided, and many who think it is an unneccessary waste of money. So maybe those outrageous billings are appropriate. A billion dollar facility to accomodate a dying industry is a hard sell, especially when there are needs for money elsewhere.

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 8:07

Get it all out people, purging is good......

By: airvols on 8/11/09 at 8:43

Enough! We need this convention center in Nashville. Bottom line this city has always been a leader in entertainment and providing a venue for travlers and tourist. Build it and they will come with their money and budgets and Nashville will once again prove to be the leader in the South for this market segment.

By: artsmart on 8/11/09 at 8:45

What is going on any more. We are trying to sneak through a Billion dollar project.
I Watch this health care circus and it appears that most politicians have no idea of the details. They report a contractor came back the TnDOE and admits to nearly $500, 000 of overbilling and per the paper the person in charge says hide it. At what point does some of this stuff actualy becomes a criminal act. In private industry a number of these people would be in deep water, in the Government they are not even fired. I would like to see people have future not some politicians monument to themseleves.

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 9:18

Tourism jobs ranks very, very, very near the bottom in average wages, and average taxable wages and non-wage benefits. This is even after all the supposed investment the last 20-30 years. We have been spending our investment money in the wrong places. We should be trying to get jobs paying $35k to $100K a year instead of $26,859 (with zero benefits). Instead we let the real jobs go to our happy neighbors to the south.

The labor statistics in Davidson having garbage men making more than the average tourism job! Only the people running the fryers at fast food restaurants are consistently making less than the average tourism and meetings worker. Most retail jobs pay better, grocery, gasoline, clothing, and sporting goods (?) being the exceptions.

In terms of numbers of employees , tourism is not even in the top 10 in Metro.


By: nashbeck on 8/11/09 at 9:19

Build the Music City Center and Hotel. We are losing out on revenue by our small convention center. The Music City Center is the right size, it won't be an example of an overbuilt center like atlanta or st. louis. Build the Music City Center! Nashville needs it.

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 9:46

Another deflecto job by JeffF,
Let's examine your records:
Under the heading Leisure and Hospitality ( I am assuming this is the area you chose to use) there are any number of jobs ranging in salary from $81,000 per year the $14,000 per year (mostly bar employees at this level which does not include tips).

You also failed to mention any of the other jobs that will be created by this facility like construction...avg. yearly salary of...high of $50k and low of 40K. Manufacturing...high of $60k, low of $45k...transportation.high of $80k low of $35k...And there are more because this project over time will touch about each and every segment of industry. Some more than others but almost all nonetheless. Trying to pigeonhole it into one singular area is a falsehood.

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 10:07

IS this the 30,000 permanent jobs that this center will create per the MPF website? A billion dollar investment just to get a year or so of construction labor on the books. Poor investing. Yes this place is so big and important we will need to build another Smyrna just to house everyone.

So in summary, we want to spend a billion dollars to employ high paying people for a year so we can then employ a whole bunch of mythical employees making ar $25K with no benefits.

I excluded the food service people from that category since as everyone knows they are not tourism jobs. I also excluded the category for sports and performance arena employment since it would be dishonest to include them with tourism. I did include museum employment but probably shouldn't since they are enjoyed by non tourists. Once you get down to real honest numbers you can see the pile of poo that has been piled up by the franchised hotel owners.

I think you overestimate the touching that will occur to other industries. Any touch would be far, far less than taking that same money and investing directly into the worthwhile industries rather than this poor excuse for one.

But by all means, lets spend a billion dollars to get some more of those food-stamp eligible jobs. I am sure someone would appreciate those jobs instead of those mean jobs where people are paid enough to live on.

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 10:24

Again you are deflecting. First it takes a minimum of 3 years to build this facility and it will take somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 construction workers over that timeframe. That is no small add to the payroll system. Second it is not the MPF website but good job of trying to fan the flames. Whatever went on with them does not diminish the need of the facility. The two are simply not tied to each other. The cost of the project is $635 million which is slightly over half way to that billion dollar figure you keep throwing around.
You seem to have a lot of answers without having to actually show any of them.
How exactly do you plan to accumulate this money from an outside source and be able to spend it on something that does not continue to accumulate the funding for your business? That is the million dollar question. How do you devise another self propelled industry that puts a portion of those proceeds back into the General Fund to pay for many of the things that Metro constituents want? You seem to want to talk down to those who need $35k and $40k jobs saying they are not worthy, even calling it "food stamp eligible". Actually you seem to want a lot of things but are unwilling to show any leadership in how to obtain them. Gives us some real ideas if you have them. Not just generalities with no basis for reality.

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 10:47

Seriously, you are talking project management with me? Yes 3 years to build, but maybe a few jobs will be duration jobs. The tradesmen are brought in until they are finished. At most a year for a particular trade. Saying 2000 consturction workers will be employed for 3 years building this thing is a complete fabrication akin only to saying that this thing will create 30k jobs once completed.

MPF created and maintained the website until the temporary sacking. That is what they were paid taxpayer money to do remember?

Don't forrget the hotel, the utilities movement, the debt interest, the infrastructure improvement. A billion dollar figure was me being kind to this unneeded boondoggle. 30 years of interest will easily reach $500 million all by itself. And just because the MDHA or whoever is not paying for it does not mean that expense does not exist. NES will eat a lot of expenses on this (or rather their customers) as well public works with the need for street and sidewalks.

Obviously with all this money being collected the use of the word "self propelled" is an error on your part. No other industry is receiving back the taxes it collects during its operations. That is like saying the current convention center paid for itself when in actuality the taxes set aside for it paid all of it. Public convention centers do not pay for themselves. They simply take tax revenue from people and justify it with some mysterious economic benefit that no one has really ever been able to proof. Any attempt to ask for real proof is labeled at deflection. I should not have to prove a project is bad. But someone wanting a billion dollars in tax revenue should have to do a great job is bringing forth actual numbers and evidence. All we have so far are consultant estimates and theory.

If pointing out the brutal evidenced truth about that sorry excuse for an industry is deflection, I would love to hear what promising 30,000 jobs out of thin air would be. No economy or region truly thrives with tourism. No city really became more livable better because they brought in more visitors.

What is the purpose of a city? Provide for the citizens and improve their lives with infrastructure, education, and healthcare? Bring in as many tourists and low paying jobs as possible?

What city was able to improve failing schools by building a new convention center?

What city improved roads or built more bike lanes or sidewalks with a new convention center?

Where have life expectancies gone up and childhood illnesses been reduced because city fathers had the foresight to build a new public convention center?

Has a new convention center reduced homelessness or criminal recidivism?

If a tax does not do any of that, why even collect it?

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 11:05

"What is the purpose of a city? Provide for the citizens and improve their lives with infrastructure, education, and healthcare?"

Really, that is there job? To provide for you while you do what?

Again you throw around numbers like you wrote the book. Maybe you should call Marriott headaquarters and see just how much they have ponied up to be the headquarter hotel before you spew out how much the city will be paying. You don't have these answers you are just trying to flame the fire in hopes of causing enough stir to redirect. Good luck...

By: slzy on 8/11/09 at 11:50

you convention center swindlers have been found out,pure and simple.

please go away.

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 12:26

What does it matter how much Marriott paid? They are probably going to be paid to manage a city built and owned hotel. They will make money no matter if the hotel does. Your strange little Marriott item was a redirect. Please stay on subject.

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 2:06

the pot said to the kettle...

By: govskeptic on 8/12/09 at 7:07

I'm sure this new Convention Center Authority will, since all members are appointed by the mayor, be just another cheering section for this project. This council should not even approve the authority legislation on first reading. The Vice-Mayor I'm sure will be putting like pressure on them to rush this thru for the mayor.
Far too many promises were made, far too early on this project. It's a huge ship to
turn around, but not impossible. All viewers of these postings should contact their
council members now with their feelings.

By: govskeptic on 8/12/09 at 7:07

I'm sure this new Convention Center Authority will, since all members are appointed by the mayor, be just another cheering section for this project. This council should not even approve the authority legislation on first reading. The Vice-Mayor I'm sure will be putting like pressure on them to rush this thru for the mayor.
Far too many promises were made, far too early on this project. It's a huge ship to
turn around, but not impossible. All viewers of these postings should contact their
council members now with their feelings.

By: Time for Truth on 8/12/09 at 9:09

They haven't even poured the first bag of concrete yet and already there is insider profiteering taking place. Those who think this will make Nashville are either insiders or are living in a fantasy world. This project is more likely to break Nashville than make it.

Remember, kids, this is a DYING INDUSTRY. All it needs to put the final nail in the coffin is another terrorist attack. Anywhere in the US. Companies are looking at their bottom lines pretty thoroughly now and greed at the top is being scrutinized by a larger portion of the population. Business oriented conventions will go by the wayside in the new economy as virtual communication continues to advance.

Also there is nothing wrong with the current convention center other than its size. It is certainly in a better location than where they want to put the MCC. And even the 'small' size is not really a liability as we still seem to somehow get a good chunk of business without the expense of bulding and running a giant albatross. Rolling the dice and throwing a billion dollars at the issue, at the expense of virtually every other tourist oriented program, is the vision of profiteers and morons, not progressive visionaries.

This is also bad planning. The original vision for this area, with a crosstown boulevard, actually made sense.

By: Time for Truth on 8/12/09 at 9:14

govskeptic, you hit the nail on the head. I doubt Jeff or I will be getting a call from Deanie-Weenie anytime soon to serve. Nor will Jameson, Holleman, Duvall, Crafton, and the handful of other Council members who are listening to their constituents and waking up. Dean will call the downtown business owners and others who bankrolled his campaign 'stakeholders' and give them ample representation. I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody from MPF on there.