Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Karl Dean's Omni-potent hotel plan

Mayor Karl Dean has unveiled his new proposal for a hotel to go with the Music City Center and it includes our Metro government paying half the cost of the hotel while the Omni Hotel chain will be the sole owner. Sounds like a sweet take for Omni, including deferred property taxes. Heck, such largess has even got the adjacent Country Music Hall of Fame clamoring for some Metro hand outs to retire its debt. Mayor Dean seems to be putting our government in the business of corporate welfare à la Bredesen.

And the news about where revenues are going to come from looks even more interesting:
Metro will pay $25 million next year to cover the cost of the land....That money will come from the coffers of the Metro Development and Housing Agency, where city Finance Director Rich Riebeling says it’s been waiting for a project.

Metro will also pay another $103 million over the next 20 years. Riebeling says that money will come largely from tax revenue the project itself generates.
That is, if the project indeed generates that much money for the next 20 years. This Metro Finance Director is averse to "ifs" on capital projects. However, if it does not generate $103 million, then the General Fund used to pave roads, maintain libraries, and keep community center programming afloat will be raided to prop up the monument to the tourism industry. The Metro Council made sure that those revenues will be committed by approving the Mayor's plan without protecting the General Fund. And note that some General Funds will be obligated even with the $103 million, since the money will come "largely [but not only!]" from project revenue.

The other interesting Riebeling comment regards the $25 million that is just laying around over at MDHA waiting for a project. At a time when Metro departments are tightening their belts and cutting their budgets, at a time when we are losing services, MDHA has a pile of money laying around that was just waiting for a project like Omni? You remember MDHA from last August: they unapologetically, even arrogantly, overspent their public relations/media budget by $400,000. And now they have $25 million just laying around unused to hand out to corporate patrons of Metro government. Seems fairly convenient. I would like to know where those revenues came from. MDHA has a reputation for overcharging residents, hoarding from Uncle Sam, and underspending on housing maintenance. Their habits only seem to grow lavish when wealthy suitors come a'knockin. I would also like to know how those revenues might have been spent had the convention center proposal failed.

All in all, the Mayor's Omni Hotel plan looks up on economic development and down on community development. Sustainability and community are more like fractions than integers in this equation.

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