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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.

Nashville’s Music City Center: If You Build It, They Will Come

Borrowing and slightly altering a line from the movie Field of Dreams somewhat applies to Nashville’s high expectations for its new state-of-the-art convention center. The new downtown Nashville facility, aptly named “The Music City Center,” is scheduled to open May 19. Located in the heart of downtown Nashville and within walking distance of the famous Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville expects the convention center to serve as a catalyst for economic development by luring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city each year. It will be the centerpiece for activity in an already lively downtown area.

The Nashville metropolitan statistical area is already riding a wave of employment expansion. Tennessee’s unemployment rate is slightly above the national rate; however, Nashville’s rate is more than a full percentage point lower. The city’s employment expanded 3.8 percent in 2012 and has expanded 16.6 percent since 2001. Throw a deep recession into the middle of that time frame, and the numbers are impressive. The city’s diverse economy, along with the state’s business friendly environment are just a couple of reasons why Forbes magazine recently ranked Nashville second to only San Francisco on its list of best cities for jobs in 2013.

The Music City Center (MCC) project was born in 2004 when metro Nashville government felt the city needed more convention space. In 2007, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, along with local business leaders and community activists, pushed the project to the front of Nashville’s developmental priorities. The Metro Council of Nashville approved construction of the project in January 2010. Three years later, the grand opening is upon us.

The massive building, dubbed a “widescraper” due to its enormous footprint, covers four city blocks and is longer than 12 football fields. The building has a total of 1.2 million square feet, with a 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 57,000-square-foot ballroom and 1,800 parking spaces. The center also features 60 meeting rooms and 32 docks to allow seamless loading for convention center exhibitors. The “Green Roof” is four acres of a grass-like plant called sedum. The roof also features the outline of—what else?—a guitar.

The Music City Center’s green roof and guitar motif
The Music City Center’s green roof and guitar motif (photo courtesy of the MCC)

The MCC’s economic benefits could also be significant and immediate. According to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, hotel room bookings for the center have already surpassed 800,000. The Omni is constructing an 800-room hotel adjacent to the MCC that has surpassed 250,000 nights booked, which is four months ahead of schedule. Another 18 hotel projects are under way or proposed in the downtown market.

The city has already seen a spike in hotel tax revenue because of an increase in leisure travel. A total of 101 meetings with dates ranging between 2013 and 2026 are now booked at the convention center, with another 300 considering Nashville for their meeting, according to Music City Center CEO Charles Starks. The annual impact is estimated to be about $200 million, with more than 1,500 jobs being added to the local economy. Business owners in the downtown area are counting on the new convention center to bring an array of visitors.

Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (right), and Larry Atema of the Nashville Convention Center Authority tour the Music City Center.
Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (right), and Larry Atema of the Nashville Convention Center Authority tour the Music City Center.

Saying that Nashville has high hopes for the Music City Center is an understatement. The city has built a top-of-the-line facility to attract conventions from all across the nation. The project should add to Nashville’s growing economy.

Nashville built it and, based on early indications, they are indeed coming.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch