A discussion on the creation of a new Convention Center Authority turned into a heated debate on the potential funding mechanisms for the proposed Music City Center project during a Council subcommittee meeting on Tuesday.
The sharpest criticisms came from District 22 Councilman Eric Crafton, who again argued the point that Council ought to keep the option of using general obligation bonds to fund the project on the table.
The state enabling legislation to create the Convention Center Authority included a promise that Metro would not use a property tax pledge to finance the estimated $635 million project. The Convention Center Authority would be a nine-member board, which would oversee the development and management of Music City Center.
The administration has promised not to use general obligation bonds, but Crafton said the debt service would be cheaper on GO bonds than on the revenue bonds.
“I’m not for using property taxes, but if we’ve decided we’re going to do this project, then we ought to keep the cheapest possible option on the table,” Crafton said.
Ultimately the Council convention center and public facilities committee unanimously voted to approve the creation of the Convention Center Authority.
Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling, who is one of Mayor Karl Dean’s top aides, said questions about general obligation bonds were merely window dressing from Council members who oppose the project.
“I think the opponents of the project are going to try to find any excuse they can,” Riebeling said. “You know, they’re against the project, but yet they want to talk about using property tax for it.
“That’s just a ploy for opposition to a project used repeatedly to raise issues. And I understand, that’s their job, that’s what they feel like their job is and I have no problem with that.”
Riebeling would not commit to a timetable for when a financing package would be presented, but indicated it would be soon.
“We’ll end up with a financing plan that the Council will either like, or not like, and that’s when the final decision on this project will be made,” Riebeling said.
District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson cautioned committee members against approving the resolution to create the authority, stating it would actually take oversight away from Council.
Committee members, like District 32 Councilman Sam Coleman, said they favored creating the Convention Center Authority, because it would allow for more Council oversight of the proposed Music City Center project.
Council members wanted more oversight after the revelation that Metro had spent $458,000 for communications for the project, even though the original contract with public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox was for just $75,000.
The public relations firm stepped down from the contract and Dean has called for an independent audit of invoices turned in by McNeely, Pigott & Fox.