Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Go Gotto

CM Jim Gotto (District 12 Hermitage) wants us all to see the Music City Center numbers (so do a lot of other people).

"If, in fact, these contracts are giving away the space or heavily discounting it, then that doesn't bode well for being able to pay the operating expenses of the convention center," said Gotto.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau said the details of what each group is paying for exhibit space and hotel rooms needs to be a trade secret for competitive reasons. WSMV
"Competitive reasons"--right.

From the screen shot I can only assume that there are discounts and incentive numbers that have been whited out. How on Earth can councilmen or taxpayers evaluate the wisdom of this huge financial commitment without those numbers? How can I believe Terry Clements, lobbyist for the Convention & Visitors Bureau, who said just last Thursday there were no freebies when I can't see the actual numbers? They'll let the Council peek at the numbers but they can't walk away with copies? No. Without hard copies available to keep convention proponents accountable over time NO Metro councilman should vote for this boondoggle. You want taxpayers to cosign for $1 Billion dollars but we can't see all the details of the deal? I don't think so.

And further, we're not supposed to be concerned about the convention center numbers and that half of the conventions aren't actually going to fully utilize this 'needed' larger facility because it's the hotel rooms that bring in the money?

You want to keep the particulars of the deal private? Use your own money.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Well of course he wants the MCC

Dan Brodbeck of American Constructors, Inc. opines his support for the Music City Center. His opinion would carry more weight if:

  1. He actually owned property in Nashville.
  2. He could prove that those construction workers would be Nashville citizens and not transients moving in to take advantage of the jobs for the three years of building.
  3. He could prove that those long terms jobs were the kind that could actually support a family and not just minimum wage hospitality ones.

Indentured Servants

From yesterday's Tennessean:

"The [Music City Center] debate centers on a simple question: Can the city afford the most expensive project in its history, particularly in these tough economic times?

Metro had about $2.3 billion in debt at the end of the 2007-08 budget year, including $1.7 billion in obligations to be repaid with property tax revenues. The city's debt has grown by about $650 million over the past decade.

The convention center project would add at least as much money to the debt load in one year. Critics said that could put Metro in a tough position."
Ya think?? Add that $2.3 billion to the $1.3 TRILLION the Obama administration also has us co-signing for (not to include the $1 TRILLION health care bill) and we have become indentured servants --not taxpayers.

And you just have to love the part where the debt is being repaid over 30 years...but there are no guarantees the MCC will be useful for 30 years. The Nashville Convention Center only lasted us 20 years. Does this feel like a 'fleece agreement' or whole life insurance to anyone else? All the money is made up front by a few and the rest of us are left holding the debt for an aging facility that drops in value the moment we drive it off the lot. If this is such a great deal...let them use their own money--not ours.

From earlier in the article: "That [debt] would make it extremely difficult to build schools, renovate libraries or reinforce bridges."

Have you seen how badly maintained many of our schools are? Do you remember that new storm water bill you just got to pay again for what was supposed to have been repaired years ago? Do you want your hard earned dollars (those of you currently fortunate enough to be earning dollars) committed to your family's welfare or as a 'backstop' for the financing of an unnecessary tourist destination? We do need infrastructure upgrades. We do need major repairs to many of our public schools, we do need public safety equipment. Most of all we need city planners and policy makers who are willing to lift their gaze from the downtown core and its "urban vitality" and look around at the whole rest of the county where there are more than enough legitimate needs that need immediate attention.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MCC need not found

I've been cruising around the Music City Center website and I kid you not the link at the bottom of this paragraph is dead.

The NEED – Nashville wants to take advantage of an attractive downtown to draw visitors who bring tax revenue to our city. Nashville operates on two main sources of tax revenues – property taxes and sales taxes. By growing the convention business, Nashville can expand the sales tax revenue from visitors and thus depend less on property taxes from citizens. To learn more about why Nashville needs a new downtown convention center, please visit the By the Numbers page.
Actually, what happens when you click on that link to go to a page called "theneed" their server says: theneed.php was not found... That's what I've thought all along.

It's also interesting to note that in order to persuade Nashville to build a new convention center they've got to denigrate the current facility. And if they fail to get their new center they'll have to figure out how to undo all those negative comments in order to keep business flowing to the still quite serviceable 20 year old Nashville Convention Center.

Which begs the question---how long will this new Center be competitive? Will it also be obsolete in 20 years?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Convention Center sales pitch

Last night, Thursday, I attended a hastily called neighborhood meeting regarding the Music City Convention Center. According to Dianne Hunter (she's the woman on the far left next to the wall) she wanted "to get the clear hard facts not filtered through the media." To get those 'clear hard facts' she had a friend hook her up with Terry Clements one of seven lobbyists for the Nashville Convention & Visitor's Bureau (CVB) and she invited Council Lady Karen Bennett (District 8 Inglewood) to a small meeting in a local restaurant.

At 6:49 pm on Wednesday evening a note was posted to a neighborhood listserv providing minimal notice to the community of the meeting to be held 23 hours later. Bennett responded with a note early the following afternoon stating:

"I was contacted several weeks ago by Ms. Hunter wishing to speak with me and bring a couple of her friends with her concerning the Convention Center. I told her I would be happy to speak with her but until we have the financing portion of the package that there was really no way of having an informed conversation."
Hunter apologized at the end of the meeting for the miscommunication and the poor choice of the venue. She stated that she had asked a few people to attend and told the restaurant manager there would be between 12 and 15 people. Clearly though, considering how the table was set up to seat no more than 10 and the placement of the video screen they didn't expect the twice that number that did show up. It was a terrible venue for anything other than an intimate few who could sit close together since the meeting was in the main portion of an open restaurant with music, chatter, kitchen noise and all hard surfaces.

Councilmen in attendance included Bennett, CM Michael Craddock (District 4-Madison), CM Jim Gotto (District 12 Hermitage), and CM Mike Jameson (District 6-East Nashville) .

There were also two representatives from Nashville Priorities in attendance.

Bennett was allowed to speak first and made it very clear that this was not a meeting she had called. She stated that she was holding her own community meeting on Tuesday, January 12, 6:00 pm at the East Precinct. At that time the all important financial information would be available for the community to evaluate. She also admonished the CVB saying that several of these sorts of one sided meetings were being held across the city that confused constituents about who was hosting these meetings and put councilmen in a difficult spot. This tactic needed to end.

Clement began his PowerPoint presentation, which was not viewable by a full third of those in attendance, by stating that 'if you don't travel much you may not know the power of the Nashville brand'. I'll admit it came across as talking down to those of us who haven't had the opportunity to travel as extensively as he had. It came across as "We're the professionals who know this subject. You're unsophisticated. Trust us." Not a good start.

He went on to say Nashville had lost over 300 meeting by not having a larger facility. He stated the Music City Convention Center (MCC) will compete for 70% of the convention market. Glaringly obvious to me was that being in the competition doesn't equal money in the bank from winning. He did say that Mayor Dean had given them permission to start selling space not even yet approved and that if we didn't build the facility there were penalties that would have to be paid to those convention clients. Clement stated they had pre-sold 227,000 hotel rooms over 8 years, had 22 clients on board, denied that anyone was getting any space for free (hotel rooms swapped for convention space kinda thing), couldn't say how they determined the room or space rates and didn't know what the break even point was. Great, they put the cart before the horse to ensure that taxpayers have additional incentives to approve the MCC. I have little patience with this tactic.

Clement was very careful to say visitor taxes will 'primarily' fund the MCC but his slide omitted the word 'primarily'. Also careful to emphasize that property taxes will not fund the center. If he mentioned sales taxes I didn't hear it.

Another slide said the center had been 'vetted for 11 years' which is false. It's been talked about for more than a decade but never fully vetted. We're still waiting on solid numbers. Clement himself stated "the financial package is not complete yet. Hopefully, in November."

The PowerPoint was filled with pretty renderings of the facility, there was a lot of talk about the LEED roof, the proposed roundabout, urban vitality, and jobs that would be created. Of course when Clement was asked what the average salary of an MCC employee would be he had no idea.

Jameson and I both asked for a copy of the PowerPoint but Clements avoided promising a copy saying he thought it might be too large to email.

While there were several very polite questions and even a few from Hunter who seemed mostly concerned about the LEED aspects and traffic I did go a bit 'town hall' on Clement. I started by stating that I didn't think government belonged in the convention business at all. I continued by pointing out that our federal government was putting us into debt for $1.5 Trillion dollars, that the state government was only too happy to throw money away, and now, during economic hard times (and I provided a personal example) taxpayers were supposed to co-sign for more debt? How was this facility going to benefit my family and my neighborhood? Clement had already mentioned Nashville's stormwater problems and I reminded him of that expense, that our police and fire needed equipment and raises and that the sales tax monies, that fund public schools, were on the line for this MCC. Why should I support this over those other and more vital government services?

He couldn't answer. He was professionally polite and attentive but there is no way you can make a case for the MCC getting in line ahead of the family grocery bill, public safety or public schools. He was wise to not even try. I dearly hope the Council understands that 'build it and they will come' was fine for a Hollywood movie but it's not the way to run a city.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wrong Rex

The City Paper's anonymous gossip creates some mud for slinging but doesn't have the facts to back it up.

Seems Mrs. Michael Craddock dared to get a job with a land developer her husband, as Metro Councilman, worked with during the development of the Home Depot in Inglewood. According to the CP Gossip: "Craddock backed the development because it meant job creation," Wrong Rex.

From my fist person observation Craddock backed it because the neighbors backed it. They had two hard choices and chose Home Depot as the lesser of two evils. One choice being an apartment complex guaranteed to house a transient population. The other a stable, accountable corporate entity with a remarkable business record. Which would you choose to live next to?

Regarding the destruction of Evergreen I never heard Craddock say Evergreen had to go. The destruction of that historic property was the end of a long and convoluted story. All of us working on preserving it and working with the developer clearly understood we didn't own the property and Moore did. Clearly Moore was not going to preserve the property. Clearly we were stuck with Home Depot. What I saw was Craddock ensuring that the neighbors were heard, that their concerns were addressed, that Home Depot didn't just throw up a concrete box with day laborers haunting the entrance and that they preserved the two historic cabins that had not been razed.

Kudos on finding work at all Mrs. Craddock. I'm in the hunt myself and have put the word out and completely understand 'any port in a storm'. Considering Mr. Craddock's position it'd be hard to find any employer that didn't have some connection to Metro government, the council, or Craddock's real estate business. Should she have recused herself from all those potential employers? I wouldn't ask her to.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Per Pupil Spending

The EIA has their latest charts of school spending by district out from the '06-07 school year. Here's Tennessee: http://www.eiaonline.com/districts/Tennessee.pdf

Nashville stats include enrollment of 73,731 and per pupil spending of $8,561. That's an increase of 18.8% since the '01-'02 school year for only 8.9% more students.

Tough to budget

If we hadn't kept the thermostat at 78 degrees, faithfully used the clothesline, turned out lights and gotten a new HVAC unit last year, I've no doubt we'd be in this woman's shoes with a sky high electric bill and no way to pay it before the disconnection was ordered. Thankfully, we managed to keep ours (a family of 6) under $250 all summer.

It's very tough to regulate utility usage. Budget billing, being charged equal payments during the entire year, can only go so far. Until someone creates an inexpensive meter that says how much money has been spent or manages to 'budget' the weather it's going to continue to be a tough call.

It's been decades since I applied for utility service but it seems to me I had to have a good credit history. I'm not sure I'd extend payments six months but having a previous history of paying fully, negotiating a plan with NES based on past credit history and the customer's current budget (and not on some arbitrary NES demand) and following that plan should keep disconnection at bay.

Here's the web page for the NES Power Board: http://www.nespower.com/boardmembers.aspx. You might want to contact them.

Just a reminder of their previous attempt to take our change for their charitable work: Increase In Rates Not Enough.

Also note, Leo Waters formerly of the NES board is moving on to the convention center board.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Maybe I have time for 140 characters every now and then. http://twitter.com/kaybrooks