by Steven Hale
Though the rhetoric leading up to its completion may have given such an impression, it seems the Music City Center — the half-a-billion dollar undulating structure that spans three city blocks down Demonbreun Street and represents the largest public investment in Nashville's history — is not quite a "build it and they will come" proposition.
The Metro Council Tuesday night approved a .25 percent — a quarter of a penny on the dollar — on the sale of some goods and services within the central business improvement district, a 90-block area downtown. At-Large Councilman Ronnie Steine explained more about the fee, before the council approved it by a vote of 32-4.
"This fee, contrary to a few folks' belief, doesn't go to pay for the Music City Center," he said. "It goes into a fund to bring business to our community in the broadest sense. It will be used to recruit these kinds of conventions in an environment where other cities like Atlanta, Indianapolis and others have already instigated this kind of funding and fund."
Steine said that while a number of downtown businesses had indicated that they intend to assume the fee themselves, "no one should be misled" about the fact that some will indeed pass it down to customers.
Earlier this year, the state legislature, at the request of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp passed a law allowing city governments to institute such a fee. That law provides exemptions for some goods and services, according to an analysis provided by council attorney Jon Cooper, including "professional services, lodging provided to transients, tickets to sporting events or other live ticketed events, alcoholic beverages which are subject to the liquor by the drink tax in addition to sales tax, newspapers and other publications, and overnight and longterm parking."
The state law also includes a provision meant to protect the Opryland Hotel that does not allow the funds to be used to recruit conventions or group meetings that might otherwise consider using another venue in the city, like the Opryland.
Cooper's analysis also notes that the state would receive the first $165,000 of the first year's collections, and $50,000 after that. The Convention and Visitors Corp estimates the new fee will generate $1 million annually.
In other council news ...
** The council approved a $490,000 settlement in the case of Juana Villegas, who was repeatedly shackled while in labor with her child while in the custody of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office in 2008. $390,000 of the settlement will go to attorney's fees, with the remaining $100,000 going to Villegas.
In response to a question from Councilwoman Edith Langster, Cooper said that no disciplinary action was taken against the employees involved because, at the time, they were following policy. Langster said she had questioned the Sheriff Daron Hall about the settlement and that "the sheriff said without a doubt that he has changed his policy, his direction to his employees is much different if something like that were to happen today."