Friday, September 21, 2012

Cancelled conventions at Music City Center cost Nashville

Nashville is already shelling out $678,000 in taxpayer dollars to cover the losses of two conventions originally booked for the new, historically expensive Music City Center. Crane Watchdog culls the details:

Two associations, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) and the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association (ATA) were scheduled to hold conferences at the center more than a month before the building was scheduled to open ....

Now the associations have made the decision to relocate upon news that construction will not be fully completed before their events. Of the two shows, one will remain in the area while the other has relocated to Florida. Aside from the tourism loss ... that the government is paying "more than $678,000 in taxpayer dollars to make restitution" to the two associations.

The payout approval is also documented in the July 12, 2012 Convention Center Authority meeting minutes. The minutes confirm the payment amount demonstrating that the Authority will pay the ATA $110,000 and also reduce the rent for future convention in the years 2015-2017 from $35,000 per year to $0.00 per year. In addition, the minutes show the Authority must pay $568,153 to the HPBA. All of these fees cover a cancellation fee, assist the groups with other expenses necessary for relocation, and cover additional expenses that would not have been necessary if the events had remained at the Music City Center.

However, convention center spokesperson Holly McCall essentially puts the blame on the Metro Council for the unplanned expenses:

The Music City Center isn't scheduled to open before May 2013, so why did the center agree to book them a month before?

"These shows were booked back in June of 2009," said McCall. "That's when metro council originally looked at voting on the convention center. They ended up not voting on the convention center until January 2010, which set us back 7 months."

So, it's Metro Council's fault that convention center planners and schedulers took council approval for granted even though popular opinion was not strongly in favor of building it? According to the Metro Charter, council approval is part of the procedure for approving capital projects. It is not something that unexpectedly pops out of left field.

Rather than blaming the Metro Council, perhaps Ms. McCall should have pointed to the failures of the agency she represents for not planning some cushion for the probability that delays might occur in the council approval process.  The convention center authority should own the missteps in the timeline that caused them to fail to account for the messiness of public process. My guess is that the convention center leaders in 2009 were willing to risk the loss of individual conventions and public money for the immediate PR projection of inevitability that the claim "Conventions are already being booked!" was giving them.

The Metro Council can be ineffectual enough, but for convention center leaders to make them scapegoats for their own wasteful messes is cowardly and shameful.

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