Music City Center raises $25.5 million for Nashville, state looms

A $25.5 million grant to improve downtown Metro Nashville and the Nashville Downtown Partnership was approved Thursday by the Convention Center Authority, despite the state’s threat to defund the agency.

Music City Center President and CEO Charles Starks said the board approved the grant, which will be paid out unless state leaders pursue a bill introduced this week to repeal six major tax revenue streams that support and manage the convention center.

“It has an asterisk next to it if our funding is cut,” Starks said of the grant. “We’re having a lot of conversations and dialogue with members of the Legislature about what this bill actually does and the legality of it in terms of our bondholders.”

Since last week, state lawmakers have introduced three bills that would dramatically change his balance of power with Metro. All three were filed by the deadline for the General Assembly session, which began last month and ends in May.

Meanwhile, Nashville Mayor John Cooper has announced he will not seek re-election, raising more concern about the extent of the city’s rift with the state. Cooper said he made the decision in light of navigating an extremely difficult four years in office through a budget crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid development and the accompanying government expansion in services, traffic management and affordable housing.

The Legislature is considering the following bills regarding Metro Nashville:

  • A bill to cut the Nashville and Davidson County Metropolitan Council in half to a maximum of 20 members was the first legislation introduced targeting Nashville government before the General Session.
  • Senate Bill 648, introduced Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, would revoke Music City Center’s authority to collect tourism tax revenue from hotels, rental cars and other hospitality services. This will effectively leave the center with no money for maintenance.
  • The governor and speakers of the General Assembly would control the majority of seats on the Nashville Metropolitan Airport Authority if HB 1176, introduced by Congressman Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, is approved. Currently, the mayor of Nashville appoints all airport board members.
  • Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, has proposed HB 1197, a similar bill that shifts power from Metro to state leaders over the Sports Authority, which runs Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone Arena, First Horizon Park and other sports venues in Davidson County.

A takeover of the Music City Center board has not been discussed.

“The state certainly has multiple pieces of legislation for Nashville,” Starks said. “I’m watching with interest what happens with the Sports Authority and Airport Authority boards.”

But business continued as usual at the convention center’s board and committee meetings this week. They promised to pay for a series of projects that would improve the area around the center, which is a major driver of tourism.

The money is contingent because of expected state legislation that would block tax revenue from going to the center starting July 1.

The funds are committed on the condition that Music City Center continues to “receive certain tourism tax revenue that it has been promised and its ability to pay operating expenses, contractual obligations, debt service and reserve funds,” said attorney Charles Robert Bone .

The Board approved:

  • The $19.2 million will fund street and sidewalk improvements on 1st and 2nd avenues that were partially damaged in the Christmas Day 2020 bombing. This includes designing outdoor patio space for restaurants.
  • $2.5 million will go toward immediate traffic safety measures, starting with 88 roadblocks on Meridian that will cost $688,000 and prevent vehicles from hitting pedestrians on the streets. Permanent bollards will eventually replace temporary barriers.
  • The $3.8 million will be used by the Nashville Downtown Partnership to make Walk of Fame Park more attractive with landscaping and events such as live music. The non-profit organization plans to maintain the park and fund public restrooms there by building food and beverage kiosks. The Music City Center funding will be paid over three years: $1.8 this year and $1 million in each of the next two years.

Sandy Mazza can be reached by email at [email protected], by calling 615-726-5962 or on Twitter @SandyMazza.

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