Today is Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Council blocks entertainment district

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By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post
A resolution proposing changes to state law in order to establish an entertainment district failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority of the Lebanon City Council Tuesday night, effectively preventing the proposal from being carried to the state legislature.

Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler, Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry and Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath voted against the proposal while Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino, Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes voted in favor.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston initially passed his vote, but after seeing the other votes, cast his vote in favor of the resolution. Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead broke the tie, but his vote was not enough.

To send this to the legislature, I had to have four votes from the council, my vote wouldnt count, Craighead told the audience, which erupted in applause after the tie was broken, but was discouraged after Craigheads explanation.

District 17 State Sen. Mae Beavers and District 46 State Rep. Mark Pody have previously said they require a two-thirds majority vote by the local legislative body in order to carry a resolution to the General Assembly.

The deadline for local governments to send bills to the General Assembly is Thursday, Jan. 26.
You can send it down there, but they really wont pass it without a two-thirds majority, Barry said, referring to the state legislature.

The meeting hall was full of citizens, and many expressed their various opinions to the council. Some offered support, asking the council to pass the resolution, while others asked for more time to look over the details.

I suggest you defer this and have more work sessions, said Derek Dodson, who has been to many meetings and expressed his opposition to the proposal.

Dodson was critical of cost and revenue projections presented by Craighead. He also criticized Craighead for not having a bond counsel when setting up the proposed funding mechanism for the arena.

Were not at the point of bonding, I dont have a bond counsel, were not anywhere close to that, Craighead told Dodson.

Dave Kirkey said it was scary that the events center may never be built, although development is moving forward by the landowner, Vastland Realty. He thanked the council for asking tough questions and doing research on the proposal.

Kirkey also said capturing taxes from the establishment of the entertainment district would hurt the rest of the city by not allowing those local sales taxes to go toward more services.

There isnt a plan, this was dumped on the council, Kirkey said.

He had previously asked that the mayor and council hold public forums and meetings to get the public involved and to give them more information. He said those meetings had not been held and said the public was not informed.

Roshan Patel, who said he represented a group of most hotel owners in Lebanon, was in favor of the resolution. He said local hotels have seen stagnant occupancy and asked the council to give this idea for more jobs and more revenue a chance.

Im not saying we build a $70 million civic center tomorrow, Patel said. Give Mayor Craighead and his vision a chance.

Patel said the jobs and increased shopping opportunities within the proposed entertainment district would drive up their business as well as others. He said the arena would become an attraction that would increase hotel occupancy in Lebanon.

Helene Cash, owner of the Crystal Couture on the Lebanon Public Square, echoed Patels statements. She said she moved to Lebanon from Franklin and pointed out they had a plan for economic growth and jobs that began around 25 years ago.

She said big box stores and retail giants drive small business growth and profits and would help the citys and countys economy. She applauded the plan for proposing to bring in more jobs and to help the local economy.

We are setting up a mechanism to look at something for the future, Cash said.

Other citizens said the public just doesnt know enough about how the entertainment district works, how the arena will be paid for and how the Authority Board will oversee the district to support the resolution at this time.

I think our problem is we just dont understand any of this, we want to see this, we want to have it, but we just dont understand it, Jim Dunn said.

There are a lot of people out there that dont understand. I think we need more time, we really do, Jean Poole added.

Huddleston agreed with those who asked for more time and who asked for more information to be given to the public. He wanted to know why they could not hold a public forum to get more information out and said he just wasnt sure how he felt about the entertainment district and arena.

Im not sure how I feel about this project, Huddleston said. There are still a lot of people out there, there are still questions.

Other council members said there were too many questions that remained unanswered about the Authority Board and arena funding proposal to support the resolution Tuesday night.

Buhler did not want the Authority Board to be in the resolution sent to the state and worried that it would be set in stone if the General Assembly passed it. He also asked if the entertainment district would take the schools portion of local and state taxes into its fund.

City Attorney Andy Wright explained that would be a decision for the Wilson County Board of Education and the Wilson County Commission. He also said the Authority Board would not be created until the city and county entered into an interlocal agreement to explicitly create the board.

There are a lot of things that need to be answered and were not getting it, Buhler contested.

Warmath also opposed the resolution because of the definition of the board, which would consist of seven members, including the city and county mayors, a member of the council and commission, a citizen from the city and county and a seventh member to be chosen by the previous six.

Cesternino said the fact that people in Lebanon and the council were having this conversation was a positive. He felt the idea was a good step forward for Lebanon, but noted the work would not end with Tuesday nights vote.

If the legislature approves this, theres a lot of work to be done, he said. This is a positive conversation.

Barry indicated his reservations stemmed from a legal standpoint regarding Tax Increment Financing, or TIFs, which is the proposed funding mechanism for the arena. According to Craigheads plan, the local share of sales taxes and property taxes generated within the entertainment district would be saved to pay for the arena in the future.

Barry called TIFs unfair to the rest of the city that does not get to benefit from the taxes generated in that area. Normally, those taxes would go to the city and county to be used providing services.

There are a lot of ifs, ands or buts and that troubles me, Barry said. I have mixed feelings about it from a legal point of view.

Craighead assured everyone no tax increase would be needed and no city funds would be used to build within the entertainment district or to construct the arena. He emphasized this was a small step toward the end goal, not the end goal itself.

Wednesday afternoon, Craighead said he felt it was not right to ask the commission to consider the resolution without the two-thirds support from the council. He said he still does not understand why the council would not support the resolution.

The Wilson County Commission Budget Committee was expected to consider the resolution in a special called meeting tomorrow. However, Craighead said Wednesday afternoon that he would not ask the county to consider the resolution since it did not garner two-thirds support of the council.

"I've asked Bernie (Ash) to just pull it from their meeting," Craighead said, referring tothe chairman of the budget committee. "Without the lead from the city, it's not right."

Ash said the meeting will no longer take place as it was scheduled only to consider the entertainment district resolution. Craighead said he was still at a loss on why the council did not support the proposal.

"I don't understand why they couldn't support it," he said. "The need for this type of facility will not go away."

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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