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Expo Center study coming in late November

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Wilson County officials had hoped to have the commissioned feasibility study regarding the need for an Expo Center sometime in early this month.

However, Finance Director Aaron Maynard said it looks like the study conducted by Middle Tennessee State University’s Business & Economic Research Center will not be ready until around Thanksgiving.

The county commission voted to spend $15,000 for the study at its Feb. 25 monthly meeting by a roll call vote of 21 yeas, zero nays and 4 absent under new business, after a resolution to proceed to the state level for approval of a funding mechanism was pulled.

“We were a little late getting the survey out and then we extended the amount of time we had the survey out,” Maynard said. “They were trying to get as much response as possible.”

Maynard said the survey basically asked businesses in Wilson County that have events they may be holding now outside of the county, or could hold in the future, whether they would host them at the Expo Center if one was available.

“This is completely looking at the economics of what we think the baseline would be from the start,” he said.

The survey was sent to members of the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, as well as businesses from the Joint Economic & Community Development Board. In addition, it was made available for anyone to take online at the Wilson County Government website.
Maynard said they received responses “somewhere in the 120 range.”

A formal presentation by representatives from MTSU will be made probably in late November or early December, Maynard said.

“It will be in the December county commission meeting when they fight about it,” he said jokingly.

Even with receiving the study later than anticipated, Maynard said he thinks that if the county commission passes it, the county will still be in good shape to get it before the Tennessee General Assembly as a private act during the 2014 session.

District 14 Commissioner Jeff Joines, who is chair of the Ag Committee and has been the point person on the Expo Center, agrees.

Joines said while the plans for the center have changed to decrease the cost from $12 million to $9 million by increasing the square footage of exhibition space and decreasing the square footage for office space, as well as making changes to the façade of the building, most of the debate has already occurred at the commission level.

“The concept is still the same, the funding is still going to be the same,” Joines said. “It’d be nice to get it done in December, but if we can’t, we’ll do it in January.”
He said as long as if they get it there by the latest in January, the county should be in good shape.

Joines said Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, have both told him in the past that if the county sends a private act to the General Assembly with a two-thirds or greater vote of the county commission, they would support it.

“When were talking about changing the law to put a $3 flat tourism tax, like Davidson County does, we would have had to change the law, and Mae was against that,” Joines said.

Joines said the county will be asking the state to approve its ability to raise the hotel/motel occupancy tax up to 3 percent, but that does not mean they will need all 3 percent to fund building the Expo Center.

“We’re working on different things right now that we may be able to talk about later that we may have to have just 1 percent,” he said.

He acknowledged that the hotel and motel owners in Mt. Juliet have been the most vocal about the proposed funding mechanism, but that there have been several meetings with owners and “they’ve expressed to us they’d be willing to do the 1 percent.

“They want this to go just as bad as we do. They just don’t want to be the only ones having for pay for it,” Joines said. “No one will be as directly impacted as the hotel/motel folks if can get this thing up and running and people start coming in here, because everyone of them is going to have to have a place to stay.”

County Attorney Mike Jennings said a two-thirds or greater vote by the county commission is required to send a resolution asking for a private act to the General Assembly. If it passes the state legislature, then another two-thirds vote is required to accept the private act.

“Then, depending on what the private act says, it may or may not require another two-thirds vote to enact the collection of the tax,” Jennings said. “If they send the private act back and don’t say you have to have a two-thirds vote, then it will be a simple majority.”

Seventeen votes are required to reach a two-thirds majority vote of the county commission, while a simple majority requires only 13 votes.

Joines said history is on the side of Wilson County when it comes to private acts being passed.

“Nobody that's living today that I've asked that's been involved with Wilson County politics can remember a time a county commission has sent a private act down to the state legislature that it didn't pass,” Joines said. “So, we've got history on our side.”

Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be contacted at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com.

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