EVEN IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY STILL WON’T COME

7 11 2009

There’s no rest for the weary, it seems.  No sooner did Maytown Center go down for the count than another concrete monster arose to threaten us:  a new downtown convention center.  Boosters believe (and believe me, belief is the operative word here!) that building a new temple to Mammon on the south side of downtown will attract worshipers from near and far to our fair city, and that these pilgrims (aka convention attendees) will inject so many shekels into the local economy that it justifies us going six hundred million dollars into debt–and it’s getting a little vague about whether that includes construction of the hotel that just has to accompany a convention center..never mind that, this year, Nashville’s hotel occupancy rate was only 55%, a better-than 10% drop from last year.  This is just an anomaly, boosters say, although some of them are willing to think that hotel occupancy may not turn around for another three or four years.

Who are they trying to kid?  The question is not when more people will be able to afford $100-a-night hotel rooms, but why anybody thinks the common people are ever going to be able to able to splurge like that again.  Haven’t they noticed that this country’s credit, at both the individual and governmental levels, is largely exhausted?  We hear talk of “recovery,” but that’s just whistling in the dark.  America has had a zombie economy for twenty years, and the only thing that kept that zombie walking was sucking the blood out of peoples’ home equity, which has now, in case you hadn’t noticed, been sucked dry.  We are not going to see hordes of free-spending conventioneers partying in the streets of Nashville.  The only free-spending parties of the future will be held in the Hamptons and similar locations, under armed guard if the hosts are smart.

Back to Nashville.  Convention center boosters say we can pay for their pet project by dedicating sales taxes from the area around  the convention center to paying the debt on the building.  Only problem is, to make the numbers work they have cast a very wide net in defining “the vicinity of the convention center.”  The three-square-mile zone they have proposed includes East Nashville (which should threaten to break away from Nashville proper and become a separate city if this kind of foolishness continues), much of West End Avenue, and areas on the north side of Charlotte Ave., aka the ghetto.  None of these areas are likely to see much traffic from the proposed convention center, but that last one really sticks in my craw.  We will be literally taking money from the poorest people in town and giving it to bondholders, i.e., rich people mostly in some other location.  That is not the way to build a better Nashville.

Building the convention center will create or save hundreds of high-paying construction jobs, the boosters claim.  That’s a cynical hunk of flim-flam if ever there was one.  I know enough about the construction business to know that the folks who really make out are the guys running the company, not the boots on the ground.  Again, a transfer of wealth to them that has.  Giving a few hundred construction workers a short-term job is like giving heroin to junkies–it will keep them happy for a little while, but sooner or later they’re going to need another fix.  They, and we, would be much better off  if we invested something towards retraining them (and all the management/publicity types) in skills that will actually be useful in the future, like gardening, cattle herding, butchering, tanning, leather working, blacksmithing, water wheel construction, or any of a host of near-forgotten pre-industrial skills that were temporarily eclipsed by the great oil bubble, which is bursting around us as I speak/write.

Pre-industrial skills?  What about all the cool, high-tech, high-paying green jobs everybody’s salivating over?

Oh, there will be a few of those, and I’m sure we can apply some of our new knowledge to improving the old technologies, but in my raving, prophetic opinion, most of the high-tech “green energy solutions” we have seen are too tied in to the existence of our current oil-based economy to survive long or spread far without it.   The oil binge has been fun, but it’s about to be very, very over.

Well, I’m betting that even most people who are against the convention center would think that’s crazy talk.  There are certainly plenty of good arguments against it that don’t challenge the existing paradigm, as Bruce Barry and Metro Council member Emily Evans have repeatedly demonstrated.  I’m glad they’ve got the tact and patience to enter the machine and try and talk to the sleepwalkers…me, I’m staying out here on the pavement with my “REPENT/THE END IS AT HAND” placard.  There’s a place for everybody in this dance.

music: Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over”

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2 responses

22 11 2009
brothermartin

here’s the letter I wrote to the Davidson County Council about this:

Comments: First of all, the fact that many other cities have large convention centers is a reason not to build one here–the US economy is shrinking and will continue to shrink until the country starts producing things of real value. The “prosperity” we have enjoyed for most of the last twenty years (ever since our country’s manufacturing base started moving out of the country) has been based on borrowed money, and we are now at, or well past, the limits of what we can borrow, and will be paying it back, or at least unable to borrow more, for a very long time.

This is going to sharply limit the ability of the average American to go to a convention and spend money. Another hotel? You’ve got to be kidding!

The creation of a “dedicated tax zone” to pay for this project will take money out of the city budget that would be better spent taking care of those already here. I find it egregious that sales taxes from some of the poorest parts of Nashville would be sucked into paying for this playground for the wealthy.

If we are going to invest money in long-range projects that will bring employment to Nashville, we would be much better off starting business that create real things that real people can use, thus creating real wealth. The “Green Jobs” movement has barely scratched the surface here, in my opinion. Anything basic that used to be made in the USA and is now only available from China–tools, clothing, that kind of thing–would be a good candidate. Finding a way to mine our landfills and recycle the useful materials that have been buried in them would be a worthwhile endeavor, too.

A new convention center would be a millstone around Nashville’s neck and would suck up resources that could be used to far better purpose.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

so far, i’ve only heard back from Eric Crafton (he of the “English only” amendment), who simply said, “I agree with you.” Knowing that two people who are so far apart on some things agree about this makes me feel very good inside…..

22 11 2009
brothermartin

p.s.–Thank you, Mr. Crafton!

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