City talks with others, but Tower sale is 'positive step'
By Michael Cass and Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • July 16, 2010
A Nashville developer has agreed to sell land just south of the Country Music Hall of Fame to Omni Hotels, which wants to build a hotel there to serve the city's new convention center.
Tower Investments Senior Vice President Alex Marks said Thursday that his company reached a deal with Omni in the past week on Tower's 3.1-acre site at 322 Fifth Ave. S. Marks declined to elaborate, and an Omni spokeswoman, Lynda Perkins, didn't respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, Metro officials said they were negotiating with Omni, Marriott and other hotel companies and were optimistic they could have a deal in place soon. While talks continue with the various parties, the Omni move seems to be an indication of its confidence in coming to terms with the city, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said.
"It seems like a positive step," he said
Riebeling said he hopes to be able to present a deal to the Metro Council by Labor Day. He said he still expects the "headquarters" hotel to have 700 to 1,000 rooms, which likely would cost $200 million to $300 million.
Metro and Tower fought last year over the city's eminent-domain claim on 5.66 acres of Tower-owned land in the footprint of the convention center. The city ultimately took possession of that land, and the $585 million Music City Center is under construction.
In December, Tower and Atlanta-based Barry Real Estate Companies said they would develop an office tower on the Fifth Avenue site, which had long been eyed by the city for a convention center hotel and could connect to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
While the relationship between city and developer grew tense, Riebeling said Tower's land is still probably the best hotel site because it's closest to the convention center ballroom and other key parts of the $585 million facility.
But the site is just one piece of the puzzle.
"It's got to be a whole deal that works for the city," Riebeling said. "I don't have that yet."
Marks said he couldn't comment on the change in the office tower plans.
Omni is owned by TRT Holdings, which was founded by Texas billionaire Rob Rowling.
Rowling also is the top shareholder in Gaylord Entertainment Co., which talked to the city earlier this year about developing the hotel.
Gaylord CEO Colin Reed said a deal would be a "win-win for the city of Nashville and for Omni."
Mayor Karl Dean's office said it was aware of the Tower-Omni agreement.
"As we've confirmed before, Omni is one of the hotel operators that have expressed interest in building the convention center headquarters hotel," Dean's spokeswoman, Janel Lacy, said in a written statement. "However, there is no agreement with Omni to announce. The mayor is committed to finding a hotel deal that is privately owned and operated and is in the best interest of Nashville taxpayers."