Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 8, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 8, 2013

CREATED Feb 8, 2013


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

February 8, 2013



At first blush, the announcement (NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, February 4) that the six floors of office space atop the Renaissance Hotel downtown are for sale would seem a somewhat routine business development.

But it's actually quite interesting and somewhat historic coming at a time when the city is about to open its second downtown convention center (Grand Opening festivities for the massive Music City Center are now set for May 19-20). Believe it or not, you could make an argument that the Renaissance office space made the first convention center possible and without it Opryland might still be the only major convention facility in our area. And wouldn't we be a very different city if history had turned out that way?

Here's the back story.

By 1984, Mayor Richard Fulton had convinced the Metro Council to approve the funding for the first downtown convention center at 5th and Commerce Street. But an adjoining convention hotel was needed and Chattanooga developer Franklin Haney was hired to get a hotel operator and build it. Money was very hard to find in those days with interest rates in the double digits. After some difficulties and delay, Haney found financing through the city's Industrial Development Board. But the city didn't fully trust Haney and doubts continued to hang over the project .

One day as a reporter at Channel 5, I got a tip that a high level meeting (literally) was underway in the penthouse offices of the National Life Building downtown (now the Snodgrass State Office Building). I took a photographer, got inside and awaited developments.

Chamber of Commerce and other city leaders eventually emerged to announce a new development team. Using Haney's financing, prominent Nashville businessmen Joe Rodgers and Ted Welch had somehow taken controlling interest and would add both the office space and several floors of condos to the hotel building. There was no condo market in downtown Nashville in those days so that part of the project never happened.

But the hotel and office space did happen, being built on top of the Convention Center and opening with that facility in the spring of 1987. Ted Welch is still the owner of Rodgers/Welch Venture, Inc. and he is now selling the office space. He and Rodgers (now deceased) played a couple of other key roles in the development of the first convention center. As top Republican fund raisers, their contacts in the Reagan administration and with Senator Howard Baker helped the city gain a critical federal grant to fund the construction of the common spaces used by both the Center and the hotel. And there's this almost ironic role they played in the saga to build the original Convention Center.

Before the 5th and Commerce Street site for the project was decided, the first set of developers (selected by the city's Bicentennial Commission and approved by the Metro Council) was actually Welch and Rodgers who planned to put the Center in the Gulch, of all places. More specifically they wanted to put the Center where the old Polar Cold Storage building sat (now the new eleveNorth apartment complex) at the corner of 11th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue).

Welch and Rodger's convention center plans in the Gulch failed in the wake of the early 1980s national recession, but think how differently this city would have developed and would be developing now if their original site had moved ahead and/or if they hadn't step forwarded with a business deal for the Renaissance office space that helped make the first downtown convention center a reality.

As Paul Harvey used to say…."And now you know the rest of the story."


Two full weeks into their regular session, the Tennessee Legislature is already stirring things up. This week on INSIDE POLITICS, we talk with one of the top leaders on the Hill, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Our topics include his push for the Guns in Parking Lots (or in Cars)bill (likely to pass the full Senate on Monday), TennCare expansion, the wisdom and impact of the limit on House bills, wine in grocery stores, the latest Don't Say Gay legislation, vouchers, the DCS cabinet shakeup and the list goes on. By the way, the Lt. Governor has some strong comments concerning Senator Stacy Campfield who is again sponsoring the "Don't Say Gay" and other legislation that is getting national coverage, a lot of which is not positive. Late media reports out of Knoxville (KNOXVILL JOURNAL and WBIR-TV) indicate that the Senator is also now getting some potentially serious opposition for the August, 2014 primary from a Knox County Commissioner who has already filed election documents and appointed a treasurer to raise funds.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. Our air times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel. For those outside Nashville or who don't have cable access, portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are later posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.


The Republican motto for many years is that in order to make government better, you have to make it smaller. But in at least two circumstances in this year's General Assembly, the recommendation of GOP officials is to make government a little bit bigger to make it function more effectively.

Tennessee is one of the few states that still handles its workers compensation program through the court system. Governor Bill Haslam wants to "reform" that to "simplify the process and make it more equitable for both the employer and the employee" according to a news release from his office. He suggests in legislation to be considered by state lawmakers that this be done by creating the new Court of Workers Compensation Claims as a part of the Division of Workers Compensation in the state Department of Labor and Workforce. In other words, make it better by creating a little more state bureaucracy.

Other GOP state lawmakers say they think they can use bureaucracy to cut bureaucracy, by creating a new Office of the Repealer, tasked with identifying unnecessary rules and regulations in state government. The position would be a part of the secretary of state's office and would send its "repeal" recommendations to the Secretary of State, the Legislature and the governor. The proposed bill to set up this new effort even has support of one prominent Democratic lawmaker, House Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Nashville.

I know there will be debate on the wisdom of both proposals, especially the workers comp changes. But if the Republicans stay together it is clear that these bills will pass easily. But regardless, what these proposed changes show is that it's not about saying a larger government is always bad , it's about finding the best way to make it work best period somewhat regardless of size.


While Nashville is basking in all our recent positive national attention as the newest "IT" city, etc., there is one new recent survey (reported in TIME Magazine, February 7) that I wish we'd do better in. It's an annual survey done by Central Connecticut State University that ranks the "cultural vitality" of the top 76 cities in the nation (based on populations of 250,000 residents or more). It's based on "newspaper circulation, the number of bookstores in the area, library holdings and usage, local magazine publishing, educational levels and usage of reading-related internet resources."

Now we are not doing badly. Nashville is 26 out of 76 which I guess, as Garrison Keeler might say, means we are "above average." But in 2005 we were 17 and took a big drop to 27 by 2011 before rallying up one level this past year. It's hard to tell from the article what makes cities go up or down, although it does appear that school drop-out levels and our low numbers of residents who hold college degrees is a hindrance.

Nevertheless, much like how colleges and universities work hard to rank high every year in the US NEWS & WORLD REPORT rankings of higher education, maybe this survey is one city leaders ought to concentrate on to further improve our rising brand image. I do say that with one caveat. Our nation's seat of government, Washington, D.C. has been selected number one in this survey for three years running. From the times I have visited I understand its appeal and I love that city. But really? Number one in "cultural vitality?" Even with Congress? It's the only current survey I know of where our elected federal officials put us at the top of anything except debt and gridlock. Maybe it's all those CSPAN book signings and panel discussions.



As I continue my stroke recovery, my eating habits remain among the biggest changes I've undergone. I am still doing what I can to eat as little sodium as possible. I try not to obsess about it, especially since it is hard to find many low sodium items when I am eating out.

And if every once in a while I want to eat something high in sodium I‘ll do it, knowing it is a once in a while only occurrence. That's why Super Bowl Sunday for the first time since before my stroke seven months ago, I had a couple of pieces of pizza for dinner. It had mushrooms, black olives and pepperoni (and, of course, cheese). It tasted great! But it's not something I plan to eat again soon or on a regular basis.

I also eat a lot more fruit these days. I take my lunch to work pretty often now. So I have an apple most of the time. I've always been OK about apples but rarely ate one unless it was cut up into a fruit salad. Now I love them! Along with the banana I eat every day on my cereal with breakfast I have a lot more fruit in my diet and I plan to keep it that way.

I am also seeing more progress in my left arm movement. My Y trainer remarked last week that I can lift my arm up higher and with a little more ease. He suggests another massage, so I am working on setting that up. And I am trying to do my home exercises more frequently with my mylar bands and some of the stretching exercises I've been doing each week at the Y.

I experienced one other interesting thing last weekend. Actually it was scary being out driving on early Saturday morning when that band of snow came through. It covered the roads in snow and ice making driving hazardous even at in low gear and at a low rate of speed. Everything was so ice and snow covered it was hard to see the lane markers in the road. So my pieces of duct tape on my windshield were of almost no help to keep me centered on the road. But it didn't seem to create any problems which makes me feel better about driving in general, although my stress levels at times, when the car was sliding around a little, probably didn't help my blood pressure much. But I did get home safely, and since the sun came out while I was making it back from Brentwood, everything melted so quickly I thought I had gone through the Twilight Zone when I walked up the driveway at home. There had been nearly an inch of snow with more coming down when I left. Now about two hours later there were few signs it had even snowed. Weird

And since this happened on Groundhog's Day, I am sure hoping this isn't a movie repeating itself anytime soon.