Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Insiders See Backroom Back-Scratching in Latest Music City Center Complication

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 3:50 PM

click to enlarge justin.jpg
State Comptroller Justin Wilson is raising questions about a key part of the funding mechanism for the Music City Center, complicating Karl Dean's big plans. Insiders suspect a little backroom back-patting between Wilson and his buddy Tom Ingram.

At issue is the new 3-square-mile tourism development zone formed to help pay off debt from the city's costliest capital project ever. All businesses in the zone--from the Jiffy Lube to the Krystal--will send their new sales tax cash to the magic kitty for the next 30 years.

It's a crazy thing to behold on a map. It takes in all of downtown, reaches across the Cumberland into East Nashville and winds all the way over to Jefferson Street.

No one really believes all these businesses will actually benefit from convention center business. Still, Mayor Karl Dean is anxious to include as much stuff as possible in this zone because he needs the cash. To win council approval of what will become his signature achievement as mayor, he must devise a financing plan that pretends not to tax ordinary citizens, but only tourists.

Enter Wilson, who thinks the zone is too big. He has sent the Dean administration a list of pointed questions. Among them:

Please explain the rationale behind how the boundary of the TDZ was determined. For instance, why are the following areas included?

*West End Avenue
*Area East of Cumberland River
*Area North of Charlotte

Good questions. But here's the curious part. Why is Wilson asking? By state law, it's the responsibility of state Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz, not the comptroller, to review the city's application. When Goetz finishes his review, he's supposed to give the application to the state Building Commission for certification. Wilson sits on the commission, so he eventually could ask his questions. But he's jumping the gun here. Why his unusual interest?

Insiders point out Wilson was a longtime attorney with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, which represents Gaylord Entertainment, which isn't crazy about the publicly financed hotel that we might build next to the convention center. One of Wilson's best buddies is Lew Conner, also of Waller. One of Conner's best buddies is Tom Ingram, lobbyist for Gaylord. Are you beginning to get the picture?

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling isn't complaining about any of this. He insists it's all merely part of the orderly governmental process, and that the council will vote on the Music City Center's financing plan on schedule in January. Good luck with that, Rich.

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