Friday, November 20, 2009

Nashville Metro Council may hear convention hall, hotel financing plans separately

Some expect one vote on financing By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • November 20, 2009 A new study says Nashville could afford a $585 million convention center, relying in part on an adjacent hotel that would help generate the expected revenue. But questions remain about whether the city will build a 750-room hotel — an assumption used by HVS Consulting in its feasibility study that was unveiled this week. Mayor Karl Dean's administration has struggled to find private financing for the hotel, and officials have started saying a hotel financing plan might not be ready at the same time as the plan for the center itself. That concerns some Metro Council members, who will have the ultimate say on whether the convention center gets built. After hearing for so long that the center and hotel would depend on each other to drive business, they've been expecting to consider the financing plans as a single deal. We need to review them together," said Councilman Sam Coleman of Antioch. "If we're going to have half a chance with the citizens we represent, we don't need to do it in a two-part package. We need to have all the facts on the table and be square with people." Dean declined to say Thursday if the plans would arrive simultaneously. He said he's looking at a variety of hotel options and would make an announcement in early December, around the same time his administration is expected to share the convention center proposal with the council. But Dean and Marty Dickens, chairman of Metro's convention center authority, said the question to ask about the hotel is when, not if. "There will certainly be a hotel," Dean said in an interview after his keynote address to a Nashville hospitality industry summit. "The issue is the size, how it's financed. "As I've said several times, we're not going to build anything we can't afford. I'm not going to force the issue. I'm going to go about this protecting the taxpayers." Better off with hotel At an authority meeting earlier in the day, Dickens said the hotel wouldn't take as long to build as the convention center. "It's not about yea or nay on the hotel," he said. "It's the timing of the financing package." Tom Hazinski, managing director of HVS, said the average event at the proposed convention center would be smaller if the sales staff couldn't promise a large hotel next door. The hotel's presence would have a "cascading effect" on the visitor taxes and fees that would pay off the convention center debt. "My guess is you're better off financially with a hotel than without," Hazinski told the authority. In his speech Thursday about the need for the convention center, Dean urged about 150 people at the hospitality summit to help push the project "over the goal line." His administration is hoping to present the financing package for the center to the council in an informational session on Dec. 3.

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