Monday, January 25, 2010

Opposition to new Nashville convention hall keeps eyes on process

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • January 25, 2010 Whether elated or frustrated, some of the people who spoke longest and loudest about Nashville's convention center proposal said they're likely to stay involved now that the facility has been approved. Kevin Sharp, president of opposition group Nashville's Priorities, said the organization's leadership will meet this week to talk about where to go from here. Sharp said he expects the group to be on standby as Mayor Karl Dean works on a deal for a hotel that would serve the $585 million convention hall. If the hotel requires significant public financing, as Sharp expects, Nashville's Priorities could reactivate for another fight. "I don't think it goes away," he said Friday. "We sit and watch and see what happens." The convention center debate was a tough fight, with both sides making their cases at public meetings, in conversations with Metro Council members and in the press. The most intense battles came after Nashville's Priorities got started in September. In the end, the council approved construction by a 29-9 vote Tuesday. "It was grueling," Sharp said. "Most of the people (in Nashville's Priorities) haven't done anything like this before. It's not something volunteers do." Union watches, too The Service Employees International Union Local 205 also plans to keep an eye on the project, which is expected to break ground by late April and open in the first quarter of 2013. Political and communications coordinator Mark Naccarato said SEIU will follow the progress of construction and revenue collection. If tourist taxes and fees fall too far below projections, Metro's general fund will have to make up the difference so the city can meet its debt obligations of $40 million a year. "There is a legitimate risk for the general fund," Naccarato said. "The general fund is what pays our members' salaries and benefits. That was the core of why we've been opposed." Councilwoman Emily Evans, who spent more time than anyone researching and talking about the project's shortcomings, said she'll leave it to Dean's administration to oversee the convention center's execution. "Once it's approved, we expect the executive branch to monitor and manage those things," Evans said. "If it's not properly managed, I would expect the legislature to get more involved. Until that point, we don't really have a role." Advocates for the convention center said they also could stay involved, depending on the situation. Dave Cooley, whose government affairs firm was hired by the Music City Center Coalition to lobby for approval, said he would stand down for now but could re-engage for a hotel battle in the council. Ron Samuels, the coalition's chairman, said his group's members would reconvene this week and talk about what they can do to make sure the convention center is successful. "We stand ready to help," he said. "It's exciting." Contact Michael Cass at 615-259-8838 or

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