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The Rise of Hyperbole and the Questions that Remain

December 25, 2009

Just a little over a week ago, I found myself walking into the Lakeshore Church in Antioch (lovingly known at the MediaPlay church locally, given the previous resident of the building) for a community meeting about the Music City Center, sponsored by Councilmen Dominy, Duval, and Coleman. This was advertised as a chance to hear both sides of the MCC issue present their reasons for and against the project, AND an opportunity for local residents to express their feelings about the project.

As I was waiting for the event to begin, I watched as the players from both sides of the issue arrived. One was a staff member from the mayor’s office who I worked with in the effort to defeat the English Only amendment, a person I consider a friend and colleague.

“I read your blog post,” he said when he saw me, referring to this post which I had written earlier in the day. “I understand what you are saying, but of course I don’t agree with some of the details.”

We talked a bit about my perception that there was some serious demonization going on from the “pro” side toward the opposition. “Look,” he said, “yeah we are probably very sensitive about this because we think the other side has been blatantly lying in order to carry out their agenda. We’re simply telling the truth, but those opposed to the MCC are saying things that are simply not true.”

The meeting began and we postponed our conversation until later (you know where to reach me guys) and I sat in the back listening to both groups. The pro-force’s arguments basically come down to the project being good for tourism, bringing lots of money to the city, which will “broaden our tax base.” They rightfully note that our existing convention center is too small (a fact that almost no one debates) and that we are losing conventions to other cities due to the inadequacy of our center. The anti-force’s is that this is a huge expenditure at a time when dollars are tight, based on faulty assumptions about the health of the meeting industry. They worry that the studies used to support the center were biased in favor of a pre-determined outcome, while those in favor of the project suggest that their studies are independent and trustworthy. Of course, the facts supporting both arguments can be spun, twisted, and pulled apart to justify why each position is correct.

Is my friend in the mayor’s office correct? Are those opposed lying through their teeth? Or, are my friends with Nashville’s Priorities correct when they suggest that the Music City Center Coalition and the Mayor Dean’s office are being less than forthcoming?

As I sat there that night, one of the clear realities for me was the level of hyperbole used by both groups. Both sides are speaking the truth – to a point. Both sides have facts to support their assertions – to a point. But there is a point in any debate where the arguments move beyond facts and climb into the realm of hyperbole – what Webster’s calls “extravagant exaggeration.”

Will the MCC live up to the projections and dreams offered by the proponents. Probably not, given those projections. Can it be financially viable? Maybe, but only if everything goes right, the convention center business improves, and Nashville is indeed the branded destination that they believe it to be.

Will the be a financial bust and drain on the taxpayers of Nashville, leading to higher taxes and cuts in city services? Again, maybe not, but the risk IS present. Is building the center worth the risk? It may well be, but only if all the questions that some are asking can be seriously considered.

I have said before, deciding to support or oppose the MCC is ultimately a matter of who one trusts. The proponents say, “Trust us, for look at how successful the previous convention center was and it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.” The opponents say, “Yes, Mayor Fulton’s convention center many years ago did well, but look at the more recent large building projects – the stadium and arena – which seem to continue to cost the city a bunch of change without much of a financial payoff . . . and how can we be assured that the MCC isn’t doing what a previous mayor did – tells us the building would cost one thing and conveniently omit that that price didn’t include seats and a scoreboard.”

For me, it comes down to hearing one side or the other answer the questions that I have in a serious way without dodging the questions. That is what builds trust for me, and unfortunately for some, the anti group has done the better job of this.

That night in Antioch, I asked if any studies had been conducted on the additional infrastructure needs for the city should the project be approved. After all, they are proposing to double or even triple the number of convention attendees with this project, which will put additional strain on the downtown area. I noted that lower Broad and a bunch of downtown was pretty much strained to the max by the CMA Fest once a year, and bringing that many extra people into the area on a weekly or even monthly basis seems like it might require additional infrastructure. It seems like a reasonable request to ask if there has been any long-term studies on the impact on city infrastructure created by bring additional folks into the city. But rather than answer the question, the officials punted, talking about how wonderful the CMA Fest was and how the CMA was looking forward to getting the new center. They never answered my question – what are we going to have to do as a city to support this?

Again and again I have seen an unwillingness to answer straightforward questions on the impact of this with straight answers. I am perfectly willing to hear them say “We don’t know…we haven’t done that research…” for at least that is honest. Instead we get spin and deflection. All I want is the truth – from both sides. It doesn’t have to be in great detail, but it has to suggest that folks are thinking about the big picture of this project, and especially how this impacts the rest of the city, both positively and negatively.

In my next post, I am going to throw out a few questions that I continue to have that I haven’t heard answered regarding the impact on our city. Feel free to throw in your questions in the comments and lets see if we can get someone to respond.

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