With nearly unanimous votes Tuesday night, the Metro Council gave final approval to an incentives package for Bridgestone worth more than $50 million as well as a set of regulations that will cover ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
The Bridgestone incentives package is tied to the company's planned headquarters relocation to a new 30-story tower in south of Broadway. The relocation will bring 1,100 employees to the SoBro tower, including 600 workers from out of state. The incentives are split into two parts: a 20-year, 100 percent property tax abatement, which passed 31 to 1 — with Councilman Josh Stites casting the lone nay vote — and a $500 grant for each new employee over seven years, which passed unanimously. (Both results were expected, as the deal passed overwhelmingly on second reading earlier this month.)
While the case for such incentives deals is always based primarily on the premise that, without them, the city could lose a company, and its workers, to another city, Metro and Bridgestone officials made that more explicit this time. Both sides have claimed that Bridgestone really might have left without the deal.
“This agreement means Bridgestone Americas, one of our finest corporate citizens, will not only keep 1,100 employees in Nashville but also bring 600 more here from other states," Mayor Karl Dean said in a statement after the vote. "We could have lost all of those high-paying jobs and the revenue they bring to the city. Bridgestone’s decision to join its businesses under one roof is a huge win for Nashville, and I appreciate the Council’s support.”
The council also passed a new set of regulations that will cover Uber and Lyft, the app-based ridesharing companies that have already been operating in the city for nearly a year. Their regulation-free operation had provoked opposition from traditional cab companies who work amidst a tangled web of various rules and standards. The new regulations will correct that somewhat, but disparities remain, and Transportation Licensing Commission director Billy Fields has said the commission will soon be revisiting the city's taxi ordinance in an effort to level the playing field.
With a nearly unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Metro Council advanced economic incentives package worth more than $50 million tied to the relocation of Bridgestone Americas' corporate headquarters to a new 30-story tower south of Broadway.
Although the council has consistently passed large incentive deals by wide margins under Mayor Karl Dean, the vote on the Bridgestone deal was still somewhat surprising. After calls from a 2015 mayoral candidate and three Metro school board members to amend the deal, it passed on the second of three readings with a vote of 38 to 1, with even a council member who had railed against the deal minutes before voting for it. Councilman Josh Stites, who has consistently opposed such deals for years, was the only opposing vote.
The terms of the deal are a mix of tax breaks and cash grants. The tire-making giant will relocate 1,100 employees from its current Donelson-area headquarters to the new SoBro tower, and bring in 600 workers from other offices around the country. In return, they won't pay property taxes on the building for 20 years and will receive a $500 grant for each new employee over the next seven years.
An economic impact study — albeit one funded by Bridgestone itself — estimated that the deal would result in a net increase in local tax revenues of $98.5 million.
With Metro Council elections coming up in 2015, candidates and rumors of candidates have swirled around Nashville political circles. Here, by way of records obtained from the Davidson County Election Commission, are the ones who got serious enough to appoint a treasurer (with current council members in italics):
David Briley — Vice-Mayor
Tim Garrett — Vice-Mayor
Renard Francois* — Council-at-large
Walter Hunt — Council-at-large
Kenneth Jakes — Council-at-large
John Lasiter — Council-at-large
Lonnell Matthews, Jr. — Council-at-large
Jim Shulman — Council-at-large
Ruby Baker — Council District 1
Bobby Stockard — Council District 2
Joseph Zerbee — Council District 5
Peter Westerholm — Council District 6
Stephen Clements — Council District 7
Nancy VanReece — Council District 8
Kevin Rhoten — Council District 14
Paula Foster — Council District 17
Colby Percy Sledge — Council District 17
Larry Weakley — Council District 17
Burkley Allen — Council District 18
Thomas O'Connell — Council District 19
Allen Grant — Council District 24
Kathleen Murphy — Council District 24
Jan Stinson — Council District 25
Davette Blalock — Council District 26
Melissa Smithson — Council District 28
Fabian Bedne — Council District 31
Angie Henderson — Council District 34
Dave Rosenberg — Council District 35
Lonnie Spivak — Council District 35
*We assume Francois is no longer running, given that he moved out of the state earlier this month. Some of the other individuals on the list (like Colby Sledge, Freddie O'Connell) have already announced their plans publicly while others (like Kathleen Murphy, fresh off managing Bill Beck's state House campaign) have not.
NOTE: Jeff Syracuse has also appointed a treasurer for his campaign in District 15.
The Metro Council will vote for a third and final time Tuesday night on regulations aimed at limiting the predatory cluster corners formed by groups of payday lending shops and their ilk around town. The council has advanced the regulations without debate, and all indications are that they will be approved.
In short, the ordinance would prohibit a cash advance, check cashing, or title loan office from opening within 1,320 feet from another of their kind. The same regulation would also apply to pawn shops. No existing locations would be shutdown, however, as they would be grandfathered in under the new ordinance.
An analysis provided by council attorney Jon Cooper notes that studies have found these sorts of businesses "tend to cluster in close proximity with one another" and that their proliferation and clustering "can have a detrimental effect on local property values and economic redevelopment."
They are also, largely speaking, blood-sucking debt factories that prey on low-income areas and exploit low-income citizens with quick cash and exorbitant interest rates. Then they pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into our political system — which is, admittedly, like dumping pollutants in a sewer, but unseemly nevertheless.
If that sounds harsh, consider the fun promotion one local payday lending shop has apparently been offering for some time now. Pay off your cash advance on time and Tennessee Quick Cash will give you a free lottery ticket. We're not kidding.
The Metro Council on Tuesday night signed off on the 700-foot, $18 million pedestrian bridge between the Gulch and So-Bro — the same bridge they indefinitely deferred amidst calls for a higher quality and quantity of neighborhood sidewalks.
Mayor Karl Dean's administration re-introduced the project last month with a new financing structure, paying off the cost of the bridge with property tax revenues from seven new developments in the Gulch. The council advanced the legislation providing for the necessary land acquisition on the typically pivotal second reading, after only a brief discussion and with a voice vote. On Tuesday night, after multiple council members called for a roll call vote, the legislation passed by a vote of 29 to 7, with the opposing votes coming from Charlie Tygard, Steve Glover, Emily Evans, Carter Todd, Larry Hagar, Bruce Stanley and Robert Duvall. (Because the bill passed second reading on a voice vote, opposing votes on third reading, when passage was virtually assured, can't be compared to votes on second reading. Glover did speak against the project on second reading. Evans and Tygard were among its most outspoken opponents the first time around, although Tygard had seemed like a possible supporter of the new financing approach.)
A statement from Dean arrived immediately following the vote:
Seven months after a minor revolt that led to an indefinite deferral of the project, the Metro Council easily passed Mayor Karl Dean's proposed $18 million pedestrian bridge connecting the Gulch to SoBro.
After a brief discussion, the council advanced, on second reading, a bill that provides for the land acquisition necessary for the project with a voice vote, putting it on track for final approval on Oct. 21.
Last month, the administration announced that it would bring the project back to the council with a new financing scheme — the cost of the project will be paid off over the next seven to eight years with property tax revenues from seven new developments in the Gulch. The project had originally been approved as part of the 2013-2014 capital spending plan, but was indefinitely deferred after a number of council members objected to using capital funds on a "700-foot sidewalk" while their districts lacked adequate sidewalks of their own.
In response to those objections, the administration put $15 million toward sidewalks in the current budget and returned with the new financing plan, which they say only affects those who would most benefit from the project. Whether for this project or another, the administration says that the property tax revenues would remain in the Arts Center Redevelopment District, one of nine such districts around the city, which includes portions Demonbreun Street and the Gulch. The revenues are not legally bound to that district, but the administration says that, as a matter of custom, they and other administrations have put revenues from properties in redevelopment districts back into projects in those districts.
The Metro Council approved a $1 million incentive grant for ABC's Nashville without debate Tuesday night, finalizing the deal that was announced in May.
There had been doubts about whether the show, which starts its third season a week from today, would stay in Nashville or decamp to Georgia or Texas where a better incentive package could offset the cost of the production. But state and local officials announced in May that they had assembled the necessary carrots to keep the country music soap opera here in town. Metro would contribute double its previous $500,000 grant, with the state chipping in $5.5 million and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., and Ryman Hospitality contributing to bring the total package to $8 million. The show had received $13.5 million for Season 2.
At-Large Councilman Ronnie Steine brought Teddy Conrad and Coleman Carlisle mayoral buttons for the occasion.
In other news:
— Legislation related to the re-proposed Gulch pedestrian bridge was on the agenda but was deferred by rule. It will appear for second reading on Oct. 7.
Don Majors wants to return to the Metro Council.
The former district councilman, who represented the Maplewood area in the 90s and early 2000s, is leaving Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper's local office after nearly 12 years of working in constituent services. He plans to run for one of the council's five open at-large seats next year.
“I’m ready for the next adventure," Majors tells Pith. "And I actually miss the legislative process, having served on the council before. I miss the opportunity to have a hands on participation in the legislative process.”
He says the city's financial trajectory is one of the issues pulling him back to local government.
“I am concerned about the direction the city is going," he says. "I would like to continue that direction, but I am concerned about our financial status down the road and just want to be in a position to make a contribution towards us maintaining financial stability.”
Majors plans to make a formal announcement later next month.
With the One Direction mob clamoring just down the street, the Metro Council convened Tuesday night at the Metro Courthouse. Here are three things to know:
Lonnell Matthews elected speaker pro tempore:
The vote was interesting for a couple reasons. First, it puts Matthews in yet another visible position in the council, ahead of his run for an at-large seat next year. He was also chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee the year before last.
Secondly, Claiborne, in remarks before the vote, made it clear that the end of his council term would be the end of his political career. What's interesting is that, having previously spent 31 years as an art teacher, Claiborne said he plans to spend more time on his art work after he leaves the courthouse. Neat.
For the current issue of the Scene, we spoke with the Metro Council's Minority Caucus about Councilwoman Emily Evans' effort to extend term limits while at the same time reducing the size of the council to 27 members.
The caucus was strongly opposed to the idea, warning that a smaller council would mean less representation for minorities that are already underrepresented in city politics. They promised that a counter-movement against Evans' petition drive was on the way.
But now, The Tennessean reports that Evans has hit pause on the effort for now:
Evans said her campaign organization, CouncilNext50, gathered 7,197 signatures, about 5.5 percent more than the 6,817 that were needed, based on voter turnout for the Aug. 7 election. She said that wasn't enough of a cushion to ensure the petition would include enough registered voters to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
However, Evans tells the daily that will try to get the proposal on the ballot next August, to go along with council and mayoral elections. If voters approved, she says the new arrangement would go into effect in 2019. While that halts the effort temporarily, it means the debate continues for another year at least.
One interesting point to note: Opponents of Evans' proposal, and members of the Minority Caucus, have wondered where financial support for the effort is coming from. But it's a question that can't be definitively answered yet. The organization formed to push for the referendum, CouncilNext50, isn't required to filed financial disclosures with the election commission until the question officially makes it on a ballot.
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