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Lawmakers continue quest for hotel/motel tax private act

By Kimberly Jordan kjordan@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:55 PM

A private act that hopes to create funding for a proposed Expo Center at the Ward Ag Center is slowly making progress through the State Legislature.

The county had asked state lawmakers for a private act allowing the county to increase its hotel/motel tax by 3 percent to help fund the proposed center.

During a brief statement at the commission’s Jan. 27 meeting, Rep. Mark Pody had told commissioners that the measure “had gotten no support.”

“I have had many hotel/motel representatives who have lobbied against it,” said Pody.

He said that he has had meetings with the parties concerned since that time and things were beginning to be worked out.

“Nobody is happy with everything, but we’re trying to work out something,” he said.

Pody told commissioners at the meeting he would continue his efforts to get the private act passed and the commissioners granted him the authority to negotiate from the original 3 percent increase that is asked for in the act.

“We’re trying to work on 1 percent,” Pody said. “At one time they had agreed to that.”

He said there is still time to try and work out language that will be pleasing to all parties. The deadline for filing bills has passed, but the one for private acts has not, he said.

“We are trying to move the best we can,” Pody added.

A feasibility study regarding the Expo Center was presented in December 2013, conducted by Middle Tennessee State University.

The study was based in part on a survey given to 106 local businesses. Questions included whether the business would use the facility for any functions or events, how much the business was willing to pay for hotel accommodations and a couple of others.

“We surveyed local businesses to identify the demand for meeting space,” Murak Arik said at his presentation. 

The study also used peer counties, those of similar size to Wilson County, to determine a baseline for the number of employees that the center would have as well as projected costs and revenue.

For the center’s initial year of operation, the study estimates there would be $16 million in business revenue and the creation of 135 jobs. Once the center has become stabilized, the study estimates a revenue of $4.8 million per year.

“What we’re trying to do at the Ag Center is increase the ability to get more folks to use it,” said Commissioner Jeff Joines, an advocate of the project. “Now there is not enough climate-controlled space for conventions there.”

The proposed center would be around 80,000 square feet and large enough to handle trade shows and conventions. The building, which would be placed front and center near the main entrance to the Ag Center, would include office space, a stage and a commercial-grade kitchen. He said the center would make Wilson County a viable choice for business, civic and athletic events the county cannot accommodate now.

The original vote to send the private act on to the legislature happened during the commission’s Dec. 16 meeting.

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