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VOL. 6 | NO. 22 | Saturday, May 25, 2013

Editorial: Convention Center Likely Years Away

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Nashville cut the ribbon this month on Music City Center, its massive new convention center that some Memphis leaders would like to match.

It is very tempting to point out that we have chased other cities in the past with these kind of massive civic projects and not fared well at all.

It took Nashville three years to build what is the most expensive capital project in the state’s history at $500 million. That is twice what FedExForum cost.

And we don’t need to get in an arms race with the top tier of convention cities, a fight Nashville is picking with an almost immediate answer from Cleveland, which has a new convention center opening this summer.

This is about the last venture we need to pursue now that the state comptroller’s office has called City Hall’s hand on the dangerous habit of switching city capital money from one pocket to another.

The comptroller’s report and the fallout from the changes the city has to make in order to get its financial house back in order seem to suggest the call of a new convention center will go on the back burner if not in the freezer.

If it doesn’t, let’s work on increasing our hotel rooms as we plan for what looks like a move of the convention center probably with Union Avenue frontage north of Beale Street.

An expansion of the existing convention center isn’t prudent because it is land locked.

An expansion to the west, which is the only scenario, involves moving at least one interstate ramp connected to a bridge that isn’t going anywhere.

The convention center’s current renovation is less than 20 years old.

The planning must also include what to do with the existing convention center if there is to be a new one at a different location. The owners of the Marriott have already made an investment in hotel rooms by that facility.

There needs to be an overhaul of how we usually pursue such mammoth projects before there is any thought of an overhaul of where we host conventions and other meetings.

It starts with the realization that this is not a monument.

It is a convention center that must be planned along with a corresponding rise in hotel and motel rooms so that the two happen as close to one another as possible.

And the key is to make the scale of this realistic for what the city can expect to do in convention business.

No more “build it and they will come.”

That’s a game we can’t win at stakes we cannot afford in a place where it took the city years to find an alternate use for a slightly used Pyramid that was somebody’s idea of the next big thing.

We should be too smart to play that game twice.

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