Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nashville council scrutinizes visitors bureau loan request

Council members say money is for convention center By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • October 7, 2010 The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau wants a $300,000 no-interest loan from city tax dollars that are designated for convention center operations, a move that may lead to bureau executives answering tough questions before the Metro Council. The Convention Center Authority board will consider approving the no-interest loan at its meeting today. According to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the loan would cover expenses that kept two major conventions in Nashville after the May flood. The proposal is receiving scrutiny from Metro Council members who question whether the loan is an appropriate use of the tax dollars designated for convention center operations. The Convention and Visitors Bureau received a $200,000 appropriation from Metro this year. Those funds were designated for promotion of the Music Valley Drive area in the wake of the flood. Complete coverage of Nashville flooding Councilman Rip Ryman, who is chairman of the council's Convention and Tourism Committee, said he intends to ask Convention and Visitors Bureau President Butch Spyridon to appear later this month at a special meeting on the topic. "Evidently, some of the committee members read the (loan agreement) about post-flood expenses, and they want to know what's involved," Ryman said. "Some of them want to know about the budget and salaries of the CVB." Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said the loan would be used to repay expenses incurred after the May flood. After flooding put the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center out of commission, two major conventions were left in limbo. The CVB was able to keep the Moose International and Future Business Leaders of America conventions in Nashville, but the groups were spread out at 35 hotels across town. "Because we had to move them to so many different hotels, we paid for shuttle and bus expenses to get them to their meetings," Sudderth said. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is funded by a series of tourism taxes. Larry Atema, the senior project manager for the convention center project, said the Convention Center Authority's legal counsel had approved the loan. Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans said it was "unusual" for the government to offer a no-interest loan to a private entity such as the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Evans said the funds designated for the loan are meant for operations of the current convention center and not promoting tourism. "I think those are valid questions, and I think we should get answers from Metro Legal," Evans said. According to a memorandum of understanding outlining the loan's terms, the CVB would repay the loan in $100,000 increments over the next three years. Sudderth said the Convention and Visitors Bureau was able to save approximately $20 million worth of business after the record flooding. Metro already helps fund the Convention and Visitors Bureau by committing one-third of the 6-cent hotel room tax to the organization. In 2009, that amounted to about $10 million. Nate Rau can be reached at 615-259-8094 or

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