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A Taxing Question

January 11, 2010

Recently I have heard proponents of the MCC say that the reason we have the Hotel/Motel tax that paid for the previous convention center is that the hotel/motel industry “voluntarily” agreed to the tax as a funding source. In considering the 14 million from those funds that has been used for other tourism related activities, the hotel/motel lobby has suggested that those funds are solely reserved for the convention center and that any attempt to use those funds for other purposes will be met with opposition:

“If anyone is looking at the hotel occupancy tax for revenues to fund initiatives other than those specifically legislated, and without involving the hospitality industry in those discussions, we suggest they look somewhere else,” the letter [from TN Hospitality Association CEO Walt Baker] reads.

My question is this: Isn’t the discretion to tax solely at the hands of our elected representatives who are considering the overall needs of the city rather than at the hands of a specific industry who is looking for public assistance to enhance their businesses?

Okay, I know that it’s a naive and idealistic question. Government works hand in hand with business to create opportunities for those businesses. However what I find troubling is that we have a firmly established tax that has been in place for 30 years without hindering the hospitality industry which that industry is demanding is only used for their purposes without any concern for the broader needs of the city. Nashville is much more than tourists and hotels, and it would be nice to hear the hospitality industry address how they fit into the fabric of the entire city, not simply their little fishbowl which represents a portion of our economy.

But then again, I shouldn’t be surprised, for WHEN has the hospitality industry (including, and maybe especially Gaylord) as a whole EVER done anything that considers the character of our city beyond turning into a plastic tourist trap?

Everyone points to the “revitalization of Broadway and 2nd Avenue” as examples of what the convention center brought to our city. There is no doubt that there are some businesses that have come about and thrived as a direct result of the existing convention business. What most folks (those of who have actually lived in Nashville for a long time) remember is that 2nd Avenue was already experiencing a revitalization prior to the construction of the Convention Center. It was focused on locally owned, eclectic clubs and art shops that were developing into an arts district with character, something unique and different. However the hospitality industry decided that the best way to tap into that was to promote chain venues, and so Gaylord built the Wildhorse and the Hard Rock Cafe came to town, pushing out the local entities and driving up the rents so that most local small business owners couldn’t afford them. Thus, while we have a fine tourist district, we’ve lost some of the unique character that we had before.

The loss of Opryland in favor of a mall is another example were the hospitality industry looked at their own bottom line apart from the needs of the rest of the city and in fact undermined their own business. Why then should we trust the hospitality industry to be considering the needs of the city apart from their own little world?

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 10:10 am

    Amen.

    I was HORRIFIED last night at a community meeting in East Nashville about the proposal. Alexia Poe showed a photo of the buildings that were demolished to build the existing convention center. Her comment for the photo was along the lines of, who’d want to come to a city that looked like THAT?

    Of course, the buildings were of the same time period and character as the remaining historic buildings on Lower Broad.

    Now, while building the existing convention center may very well have been a good idea, I cannot fathom why disparaging the remaining historic character of our downtown is a good idea.

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