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Questions That Remain, Part II

December 26, 2009

Here are a few questions that I haven’t yet heard answered by the proponents of the Music City Center. They are certainly welcome to send my their answers and I will be happy to post those responses.

What studies have been done on the additional city infrastructure needs required to support the project, and how much will this cost?
Anyone who has been on lower Broad during a major convention has seen the strain on traffic and services in the area, which is made even greater when events are happening simultaneously at the Schermerhorn, the Arena, and the Ryman. While it looks like there will be an attached convention hotel housing participants, the majority of attendees will be at other hotels in the area, likely requiring some sort of shuttle bus service (based on the examples of other cities). What improvements will have to be made to roads and transit systems to allow an increase in attendees from 2,000 to 7,000, and what are the projected costs of those improvements?
Are area restaurants currently saturated, and are there enough empty spaces available for the creation of new restaurants to handle convention business (and will there be a large enough increase to support these businesses during times when the convention center is not rented)?
Recently I was on lower Broad when Springsteen was at the Sommet Center, and there were events at the Schermerhorn and the Ryman. There were long lines outside every restaurant in the area, which is a good sign, but also something that is a bit of a worry. As a former event planner, one of the things that I considered was the ease of access to area restaurants AND their ability to handle large crowds in a small amount of time due to the time requirements of the meetings I managed. While adding the MCC may provide a stimulus for creating new restaurants, do we have enough space in walking distance to develop AND will there be enough business on a regular basis to support these establishments?
What is the long-term plan for addressing the proximity of the homeless services agencies to the MCC?
I have repeatedly asked this question and it has been repeatedly ducked. Everyone knows that there is no way that our city leaders will allow the Rescue Mission and the Campus for Human Development to be across the street and one block away from our shining jewel of tourist bliss? When asked about this issue leaders tend to say things like “we have a homeless commission that is trying to end homelessness…” or “…that will become prime real estate, so someone will purchase the property.” Yeah, like we are going to snap our fingers and deal with a problem as big as homelessness in the three years of construction when we haven’t been able to deal with it ever before. And yes, someone could buy the property, but where will those services be located for the fact is that they will still be needed. Is ANYONE giving any thought to the impact on the poor and mentally ill which will be affected by the project?
What about that $14 million dollars that has previously been allocated from tourism taxes to other agencies?
When asked about the shifting of the almost $14 million dollars of hotel taxes to local agency needs, the standard response is “That money was not supposed to be used for those agencies and everyone knew it was a temporary solution…” Okay, that’s all well and good, but the question still remains: Where are we going to get the $14 million dollars to support those agencies? Simply punting to the next budget cycle is a chicken way out – just tell us that we will have to find money from the general fund . . . or not.
Why does the project have to be so large at this time? Why not consider a phased approach that would increase capacity but not overly burden both our tourists and out city’s finance in this downturn?
Look, there is little doubt that the existing convention center is on the small side and has many limitations (leaving one to ask why our leaders chose a land locked location in the first place, but that’s for another day…). The question that isn’t being answered is why the new project has to be so grandiose. Why couldn’t we build the shell of the building, but not complete certain parts until we have a better sense of need and financial stability? What ARE the elements that meeting planners say are mandatory to get their business, and does our project include over capacity that may be nice for future growth but isn’t needed right now? Is there not a way to create a longer range development plan that builds some now and reserves some things for later?
How is the decision to wait on the hotel not another “bait and switch” like that with the stadium construction and the last minute call for additional monies to purchase seats?
Every analysis of this project has shown that a key component of the success of the project is the construction of an attached hotel to the convention center. As a former meeting planner I would say that having a “headquarters” hotel was an important consideration, and the mayor has said that we will eventually have to include a hotel in the project. Currently he is waiting, suggesting that the economic outlook will be better in a year and that we may be more likely to find private funding. I wish him the best with that, for I think we are long way away from a full economic recovery, especially since many of the lost jobs are lost for good. So, if the hotel is necessary why not include it in the total project? Because there is no way to fund it currently without public money and the tourist generated fees and taxes will be consumed by the convention center itself. So, we are being asked to start construction on a public project that has an additional phase that is absolutely necessary without any clue as to how that phase will be funded, and a hope and dream that private funding will become available. The fear is that a year from now the mayor will come requesting public dollars for the hotel and when challenged will say, “We have to do it because the MCC depends on it . . . and we’ve spent too much to stop now.” How can we set aside the hotel from the total scope of the project is the hotel is seen as “mandatory”?

I am sure that you have your own questions about the project. Feel free to leave them in the comments section and after a week or so we will forward them to the MCC coalition to see if they have a response.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 26, 2009 8:58 am

    Jay,
    While not directly addressing the questions you are raising, a recent article about the economic legacy of stadiums (or stadia?) financed with public dollars provides very critical questions. These facilities are not drawing the revenue promised. Some were oversold and now cities are left holding the debt, not only for the construction, but also for the loss of promised revenue. This isn’t mere paper loss. It’s loss of revenue to pay for basic services and upkeep.

    The case is made taking a more critical look at the case made for such public financing of major facilities such as stadiums and assessing their real economic impact.

    It seems to me, some of your questions also raise this issue in regards to the facilities proposed for downtown Nashville. Because economic development is interrelated with social issues, this critical analysis must be considered more carefully and claims must be tested against the experiences of other cities and against other data that is available beyond the specific studies for a particular building project.

    You are raising a series of questions about a more comprehensive strategy for development, it seems to me.
    Larry

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