Monday, June 1, 2009

Convention Center: Debating Something That Won't Actually Happen Anytime Soon

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 11:27 AM

click to enlarge hamster-wheel.jpg
Yesterday, Heywood Sanders and Butch Spyridon -- the Music City Center's version of Spy vs. Spy -- had that debate we've been pimping for the past two weeks. Aunt B. should weigh in later today or tomorrow with observations that may be hilarious considering she spent half the time watching through a gap between her fingers, like a 12-year-old catching her first big-screen glimpse of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And if you check out wrap-ups by the Tennessean or City Paper, you'll see words like "contentious" and "testy," both of which are apt descriptors of what was, at times, just a shouting match between two people who plainly don't get along. What stinks, however, about this whole should-we, shouldn't-we mess is what is being missed amid all the arguing: Because of a relatively shaky bond market, we're not going to start building this monstrosity for a very long time. Proponents of a new downtown convention center have to be wondering what they did to anger the gods of municipal finance (very dour, self-serious gods, in case you were wondering). They spent a decade cultivating the perfect political climate only to have it steamrolled by a runaway economy. Tomorrow night the Metro council will almost certainly pass a bill that will allow MDHA to spend $75 million on land for the convention center. This will make it seem like construction is imminent. It's not. Metro finance just revealed that budget projections won't be available until summer...of next year. In essence, we can't sell bonds at the current rate, so we're going to wait a while in hopes conditions will improve. In the meantime, we're going to lose XX amount of dollars in property taxes we could have been collecting on all that land we're going to own for the center we're not going to build all the while pushing back groundbreaking ad infinitum (more later on why this, again, is a terrible business practice). Sorry if all this bellyaching sounds like a cop-out to not write a proper summary (in some ways, that's what it is). But it's one thing to get mad about dumb decisions like spending money on land you may or may not use. It's another to get mad about a project that's been in the works for 10 years and now, based on an admittedly amateur view of how these things work, may be postponed for well into the near future*. *One council member we spoke to talked about what the debate might look like in 2015 without batting an eye. That's all we could really think about yesterday. Sanders and Spyridon kept raising their voices, with each trying to drown out the other. But ultimately, it doesn't matter how loud they yell; because the last word still belongs to the market.

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