Debate Over Metro's Convention Center Heats Up - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Debate Over Metro's Convention Center Heats Up

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A local group has launched a new website questioning whether Nashville should spend a $1 billion on the project. Supporters of the proposed convention center said it's an investment in Nashville's future.

Charles Starks knows the current convention center as well as anyone. Starks is the facility's executive director, and he took NewsChannel 5 Investigates on a tour. 

"This was the correct size back in the early 80's when it was build," said Starks.

Starks said the concrete walls and small meeting rooms cost Nashville convention business.

"They're comparing you with other cities that have nice drywall and nice finishes so the actual look and feel of the building feels cheaper," said Starks.

He took us to the kitchen. One stove is all the center has to prepare meals for events with 3,000 people or more.

"My wife likes to go to the Parade of Homes. We have been in homes in Franklin with bigger kitchens than this," said Starks.

It means the center can only handle one large group at a time, but an even bigger problem is the loading area. The center has only six loading docks for trucks to bring exhibits into the hall. 

"We could have trucks lined up out 5th Avenue and Broadway trying to get into the facility. When a meeting planner looks at that, that's money out of their pocket," said Starks.

The proposed new convention center would have 33 loading docks. Starks said Nashville desperately needed the new center.

"If we want to be in the convention business nationally, in Nashville downtown, we've got to build a new facility," said Starks.

Strategic planner Allen Hovious is part of a grassroots organization questioning whether now is the time for Nashville to spend so much on a convention center.

"I just think that we are urging caution," said Hovious. "It just happens to cost $1 billion. That's a big step for any city to make."

The group calls itself Nashville's Priorities. They've launched a website with information about what $1 billion would buy, and with lessons from other city's convention centers.

"These convention centers are not paying off as projected in all the studies including the studies that Nashville is using," said Hovious.

Even critics agree something needs to be done about the current center. Nashville's Priorities questioned whether Metro could simply add on to the center.

A 2004 study lists two possible expansion options. A North Option which would cost $181 million and require relocating the McKendree Family Life Center. A South Expansion Option would cost $202 million, but it would require relocating the First Baptist Church.

The costs for both options have likely increased.

"What we've determined is we're really kind of landlocked," said Starks. 

He does not believe expanding the old center is a good idea, and said the proposed new convention center will give the city what it needs - nothing more.

"We're not trying to build the Cadillac of convention centers," said Starks.

It will be up to the Metro council to make a final decision.

In November, the mayor plans to present the council with all the numbers that explain exactly how Metro will pay for the Convention Center and the Hotel.

He hopes the council will approve the project by the end of the year.

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