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Hotel tax bill still lives

By Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Mar 4, 2014 at 11:41 PM

A bill that could pave the way for an Expo Center in Wilson County was sent back to subcommittee Tuesday.

House Bill 2506, sponsored by State Rep. Mark Pody with companion Senate Bill 2605 sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, would increase the hotel/motel tax in Wilson County from up to 5 percent to no more than 6 percent. 

The increase, which is subject to approval from the Wilson County Commission, would have to be used solely to help pay for building an Expo Center at the James A. Ward Agricultural Center.

The House Local Government Committee was due to consider the private act during its meeting Tuesday, but lawmakers instead sent it back to the Local Government subcommittee. 

“There are several other bills that are similar in nature and I think they wanted to handle them all at once,” said Pody.

Subcommittee members will discuss the bills during the group’s next meeting, set for Wednesday at noon.

Wilson County Commission voted during its Dec. 16 meeting to send a private act seeking a 3 percent increase to the legislature, but that act was met with resistance.

During a brief statement at the commission’s Jan. 27 meeting, 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 at the time.

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 to the current 1 percent. 

Even reducing the increase to 1 percent, Pody was not optimistic Monday on the bill’s chances in subcommittee.

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 revenues of about $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.

Lebanon Democrat general assignment reporter Kimberly Jordan contributed to this report.

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