Like backslaps and favors, handwringing and gnashing of teeth have their place in local politics. But the red herrings issued by opponents of the Music City Center project should not be dissuasive. We strongly urge the Metro Council to pass the financing plan for a new downtown convention center Tuesday, thus ensuring a more prosperous civic future for both residents and businesses.
First, let’s address the risk.
The plan cites a $585 million overall cost, which includes $415 million for construction. The remaining dollars would cover land acquisition, various fees for financing, architecture and engineering, and some $20 million to relocate a utility substation.
A portfolio of tax revenues, all of which draw from the existing tourism industry, has been established to fund the project, the most prominent of which is the hotel-motel tax. Three percent of that would service the debt, which Metro estimates will shake out to around $40 million annually through 2043. Last year’s hotel-motel revenues were in the $25 million range.
There is also a unique arrangement called the Tourism Development Zone, in which a portion of sales tax revenue generated within the defined area would be allocated toward convention center funding. Assuming the future stays as sunny as the mayor’s office would like, Nashville could be looking at a hefty haul.
As well, there is a $40 million reserve fund from which Metro can draw to service this debt in the case of fiscal emergency.
To state the obvious, there is risk in any major civic project, especially one where the taxpayers are the stopgap. But there is simply no way we’ll fall 100 percent short on this bill. And if we’re shy here and there, chances are we’ll bounce back in due course. It is illogical to believe that Nashville’s tourism industry will suddenly begin a long, slow decline. To the contrary, a new convention center would provide a considerable boost to the sector — which employs close to 60,000 people in the Midstate — streaking smiles across a lot of weary faces.
The idea that we could simply spend the money elsewhere isn’t rooted in fact. Doing so would require, at the least, a change in state law. When was the last time the General Assembly reacted to a city issue with swiftness and aplomb?
In fact, most of the arguments we’ve seen against the convention center have been reductive and fear-based, which is no way to advance a world-class city.
To be sure, there are pertinent questions:
Is this something a city government should be doing?
If we agree the primary functions of Metro government are to provide public safety, good schools, adequate housing and an economy where its citizens can find both necessary services and quality jobs, then the answer is yes.
Can Nashville attract more than 20 percent of the convention market with a new, state-of-the-art facility?
We have to believe yes. Hold Music City up against Indianapolis, Cleveland, Charlotte, Cincinnati or Kansas City. There is mojo here, a cultural cachet for which most comparably sized cities lust. If you don’t believe that, go spend a weekend in Cleveland. Even the Browns are a rolling disappointment.
The vacancy here is the facility. There are already some 300,000 nights booked in hotel rooms contingent upon this project, not to mention the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2014. We don’t need a poll to know the majority of citizens can get behind that.
Will this benefit the local economy?
Without question. The mayor’s office is predicting $135 million of new spending in Davidson County as well as 1,500 new jobs. It will undoubtedly prop up local cultural institutions, like the Symphony, the Ryman, the Country Music Hall of Fame — because when you head to a convention, you always find something to do with your down time. Even the Predators and Titans stand to benefit.
And let us not forget the nifty local stimulus package that is the $415 million construction bill. We’re not sure anyone could argue against that and still contend to have a conscience.
Any city worth its world-class billing is going to take calculated risks to continue growing. City government must move alongside its citizens and businesses. Bringing more tourism to Nashville will benefit our infrastructure and help city government service a growing population. As Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling told The City Paper in a recent interview, “You either grow your economy or you tax your citizens in order to meet the needs of the government.”
We prefer the former.