Music Museum Property Contracts Hit Sour Note

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NASHVILLE, TN — A Metro councilman raises questions about agreements for the proposed National Museum of African American Music and a council- woman wants an independent evaluation of property values.

That’s the upshot of a community discussion at the Cathedral of Praise on Clarksville Pike where NMAAM Director H. Beecher Hicks and the developer of the old convention center promoted their plans Nov. 17. Nearly 25 people attended the meeting.

Originally, the museum was to be at the corner of Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard but last year Gov. Bill Haslam proposed $120 million for a new state museum there. NMAAM is now planned downtown at 5th Avenue and Broadway.

It’s a prime location, but not everyone is sold on plans for the museum, most of which would be below ground level.

“The Council’s own lawyer wrote up a legal analysis before they voted but the agreement is vague,” Councilman John Cooper said. “It reflects the value but not the location, or the terms of the deal.”

Councilwoman Erica Gilmore wants an independent evaluation made of the value of the property.

Cooper said some important facts submitted to council members about the museum — before they approved it — weren’t in the contract. Terms of the contract should be renego- tiated, he said.

Currently, developer Burgin Dossett gets $88 million worth of subsidies to develop the old convention center, and $11 million of that was earmarked for a 50,000-square-foot museum. But the contract Metro approved last year says the museum will be 45,000 square feet. The current plan says it will be 56,000 square feet and all on the bottom floor.

“Was it a deliberate bait and switch? I wasn’t there. I don’t know,“ said Cooper, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.

“If we’re putting up $8 million helping a developer because they’re going to do a museum for us, then they better do a rockin’ museum,” he said.

In a 2012 plan, NMAAM was to be 60,000 square feet on two levels. In 2014, it was planned down the block, on one level and was 40,000 square feet. Now it is back up to 56,000 square feet, but the current terms are that NMAAM would get a long-term lease with free rent for 70 years.

“That’s a very bad arrangement,” Cooper said. “The museum board should own it, not rent the space the city is paying Dossett to build. Furthermore, Dossett’s getting discounts worth tens of millions on parking, taxes, and loans.”

Hicks appeared happy with the current plan that has two entrances to the museum, one on Broad- way and one on 5th Avenue. He said museum tickets would cost about $20 and, after hours, the main lobby could be leased for weddings and corporate events to create a revenue flow.

The museum would employ 39. No annual operating budget estimate was available Nov. 17, but it’s expected to exceed $1 million. The museum would receive all of that and more if it bargained for 5,000 square feet on the second floor and leased that for an upscale restaurant.

Currently, rental space for such a location rents for $40 per square foot. “If it’s going to be a re- ally posh place you could expect up to $60 per square foot,” commercial real estate broker Liz Gatlin said. “People from larger cities can afford these rents.”

At those rates, a 5,000-square-foot restaurant would generate $300,000 in rent monthly, or $3.6 million annually. That would cover more than museum operations, and museum tickets could be free.

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