Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Music City Center Showdown: Samuels vs. Evans

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 3:12 PM

click to enlarge debatepic.jpg
An online debate today at high noon on the proposed new convention center brought together project supporter Ron Samuels of the Music City Center Coalition and project skeptic Emily Evans of the Metro Council in a one-hour face-off. 

Evans spent a lot of her time emphasizing that the changed economic climate will necessitate a public guarantee as a financing backstop--putting taxpayers at risk--if the bond markets are to be comfortable with this project. 

Samuels responded by counseling caution and patience, insisting that we won't know how much risk is involved until we see the actual financing package later this fall.

Although the conversation was substantive and spirited, it was disappointing (if predictable) to see Samuels peddle a number of persistent canards in lieu of concrete factual argument for this thing. Herewith, Samuels' top nine suspect utterances:

[1] "Our track record has been pretty good; we've lived through two recessions." Translation: Let's build the largest project in the city's history at a time of declining national demand for convention capacity, because the city didn't go bust with the one we built over two decades ago at a time of expanding demand. 

[2] "We looked at expansion [of the existing center] and it's simply not possible." Translation: Expansion of the existing facility is of course possible, but we're not crazy about what that expansion will look like, and it wouldn't duplicate the shiny new one proposed, so we'll just pretend and insist that expansion is impossible and hope nobody notices. 

[3] Responding to Evans' assertion that financing the project might have worked three years ago with private debt guarantees, but will now require a public "credit wrap" backstop: "Any deal that would have been done back then or now is going to have a [public wrap] commitment." Translation: We supporters have been fibbing all along in selling the project as something that completely insulates taxpayers from risk.

[4] "The mayor and [finance director] Rich [Riebeling] are not going to bring something that is going to put the taxpayers at risk." Translation: Don't worry your pretty little heads about project risks, even though it's now clear that some kind of general revenue backstop will be necessary. Alternative translation: Trust us.

[5] Regarding the significance of early advance bookings of the new center: "This is the time that you do grab market share and we're already seeing that with the numbers." Translation: The public is dim enough to infer realistic long-term demand from deeply discounted initial deals designed to build political support for the project.

[6] If we build it, "We also keep ourselves from raising property taxes....this keeps our property tax low." Translation: Sometimes to argue a position you just have to say things that sound nice without any supporting logic or evidence.

[7] "We have identified revenue streams that aren't available for anything else except the service of the convention center [and] hotel debt." Translation: We made sure to enact state and local laws restricting certain revenue sources to funding a new center, and the public is gullible enough to believe that we couldn't have done the policy making differently in the pursuit of different civic objectives.

[8] On the matter of whether voters should be allowed to vote on the project in a referendum, "All five mayoral candidates were in favor of this...so in a sense they've already done that." Translation: Voters are clueless enough to buy the illogical notion that when all candidates share a view, electing one of them means the general public must also share that view.

[9] "If the revenues are there this is a smart investment." Translation: if it's a good investment then it's a good investment. QED.

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