Nashville Convention Center Gets Support & Resistance

It’s clear to me that the new Nashville convention center is going to be built and all of the pubic opinions trust upon us by the media is simply entertaining noise. Of course, this is only my educated opinion and not the collective  opinion of the entire city. Well, when I read headlines like, “Nashville Sues to Seize Convention Center Land“, I am kind of tipped off.

Whenever I listen to a structured debate discussing whether or not Nashville needs a new convention center, the opposing argument always seems to come down to four main points. The first point is that we are currently in an economic recession and that it does not make sense to build something that costs $700 million. The second point is that the $700 million could be better spent on items like public education or possibly not even spent at all. The third point is that Gaylord has an adequate convention center already in place that makes the need for a convention center in downtown moot. The fourth point is if a new convention center is built, what in the world will happen to the old convention center. Will it sit vacant?

To point #1, I agree that we are currently in an economic downtown. This means that there are more Nashvillians out of work, the cost of materials have come down significantly and that we probably won’t be in a new recession once the convention center is complete. Actually, is there a better time to build? I make the argument that there is not. The cost of labor and materials are better than it has been in decades, the availability of skilled labor has never been as readily available and all economic indicators point to economic stabilization by late 2010, a full 2 years before the convention center would be complete. So, it stands to reason that Nashville will actually be perfectly positioned to take advantage of  new convention and hotel traffic in the second year of recovery. It is reported that the Music City Center will create 2,500 immediate new construction jobs early next year and more than 30,000 additional jobs once the center is complete. Even if those numbers are 20% too optimistic, doesn’t 24,000 new jobs sound great? If not, let me put that into perspective. 24,000 jobs are more jobs than there are residents of Spring Hill.

To point #2, I think there could be an argument that spending $700 million on public education would be good, but not for short term city growth. Every scholar who has ever studied the effects of investment in public education agrees that the return on investment is not fully realized for approximately a decade. Simply stated, it is a long term investment. Therefore, spending $700 million on education rather than on a convention center would be a very bad short term investment for the city (I do think that Nashville does need to invest long term in education though).

To point #3, I agree that Gaylord has a great hotel and conference center. What in the heck does that matter?!? Is Nashville not supposed to compete with Opryland? Last time I looked, a free market economy that depends upon competition as a key ingredient to success still exists in the United States. If Walgreens builds a pharmacy on one corner is CVS now forbidden to build a store within 5 miles of that new Walgreens location? Is Exxon now restricted from building a new gas station in a certain zip code because BP has “got it adequately covered”? Seriously, Gaylord is doing a great job creating public misinformation and dissent and has even been caught funding groups (Nashville Priorities) to make negative noise, but what in the world does it matter? Here is what I have to say, Gaylord, good luck competing with a newer, better located, non theme-park like, urban masterpiece. I would also like to thank them for decades of awesome Christmas light displays too.

To point #4, what in the world are you worried about? The current convention center is owned free and clear. There is no debt. In a worst case scenario, you could fire sale the darn thing to a greedy developer who could do whatever they want with the darn thing and still come out ahead. But, that’s probably not going to happen. There is already at least one natural tenant who has expressed strong interest, the Dallas-based Medical Trade Center. Problem solved. Medical trade center or fire sale. Either way, the current convention center won’t sit vacant and become a tax liability, I can promise you that.

In my opinion, this new convention center is not only needed, but it’s coming whether you like it or not. Not only that, according to my own fuzzy math, there is less than a 17% chance the taxpayers will ever have to contribute one penny to its construction or maintenance cost. In case you have not heard, you never had to pay a penny for the last one either. In fact before that current convention center was built, do you remember what industry dominated the 400 block of Broadway? Porn.

Convention Center Supporters

Virtually the entire business community supports the construction of a new downtown convention center in Nashville. There are some obvious supports like all of the chambers of commerce in the region, the Visitors Bureaus, hotels associations, Realtor associations, restaurant associations and downtown retailers. In addition to those you would expect, Tennessee State University, the Country Music Association, the Gospel Music Association, the Chamber Music Orchestra, the Songwriters Association International and even the Tennessean publically threw in support. Obviously, the entire music community believes this building is going to be an important part of their future success.

Convention Center Skeptics

The Nashville Priorities group, a privately funded dissent group is the most vocal opponent followed closely by misguided members of the general public. I feel like John Stossel, “give me a break”! I really am not aware of any other groups who oppose the construction of the new Music City Center, although, I hope that you will tell me who they are.

BTW – to Mayor Dean, FDR and Eisenhower would be proud. Very proud.