Convention center contract discussions continue with future of facility uncertain

'Access to meeting space enables owner to proceed with investments'

The recent spiking of the proposed Nashville Medical Trade Center has spurred various under-the-radar discussions and proposals for the existing Nashville Convention Center.

Included in the uncertainty of the center's future is whether some of its space rises to “Class A” level — or, at the least, will be maintained as such.

Joe Hall, president of Hall Strategies and spokesman for Renaissance Nashville Hotel that adjoins the convention center, said hotel representatives and Nashville Convention Center officials are in talks related to the hotel’s contract between the two parties. The contract, which extends through June 2017 and for which an additional extension is in play, stipulates the meeting space must be maintained Class A.

“We’re talking to the city about gaining permanent access to the current NCC meeting rooms and a portion of the exhibit floor space,” Hall said. “It’s extremely important to our core business. Our clients require access to ample, quality meeting space. It will ensure Renaissance operates at a strong level and is in a position to grow its business.”

Hall declined to say whether Renaissance officials feel the space currently is Class A or not. But, he said, gaining access to the meeting room space would enable Renaissance officials to continue to make investments in the hotel that relate to its maintaining a four-diamond rating.

“It’s not part of the [contract] conversation,” Hall said of the Class A space factor. He said the key to the contract extension conversation is two-fold: It needs to ensure Renaissance can grow and make sure the city has a quality conference center product.

“Knowing that the hotel has permanent access to meeting space enables the owner to proceed with investments in renovations that will have a relationship to maintaining a four-diamond rating,” Hall said.

Charles Starks, the NCC's executive director, said the center’s space is “absolutely” Class A.

“I could show you a couple hundred convention centers that look just like it,” Starks said, adding the convention center has hosted an average of some 230 events per year for about eight years. That number should not drop below 130 once the Music City Center being constructed nearby becomes fully operational. “The Georgia World Congress Center was built in the same manner,” Starks said.

Asked if the city — the Nashville Convention Center Authority oversees the facility with Metro as its owner — will have the incentive to spend money on a facility whose future is uncertain, Starks acknowledged the convention center, which originally opened in 1987, must be “maintained and kept updated.”

“The hotel is trying to maintain a four-diamond hotel rating with a Class A convention center space rating,” Starks said, adding that there is not necessarily a correlation between the two in general terms.

“Does the convention center space look like the hotel space?” he asked hypothetically, before noting, “No, it doesn’t. But they are two different spaces.”

“We never have customers who comment [negatively] about the look of the space,” Starks added.