Conventional Ironies

When Tom Ingram was head of the Knoxville Chamber, he helped the Haslam family push the idea of a downtown convention center. He has now been hired by Gaylord Entertainment, operators of the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, to oppose a downtown convention center in Nashville.

The Nashville business community is not happy that the principle consultant for Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam's gubernatorial campaign is screwing with their convention center.

Knoxville spent about $110 million on its downtown convention center. (The rest of the money went to moving a KUB substation, tearing down a UT parking garage and building a new parking garage.) Nashville has spent $80 million on a new downtown convention center thus far. Only they haven't started building it yet. The final tab is expected to be $635 million and Mayor Karl Dean and the business community are intent on moving forward on the project, despite the down economy.

The city has hired Dave Cooley to promote building the center. Cooley, who has a public relations company, is the former deputy governor for Gov. Phil Bredesen. Gaylord Entertainment has hired Ingram, who recently rejoined the Ingram Group, who held the similar job to Cooley under Gov. Lamar Alexander.

Gaylord has put its plans for an expansion of its Opryland Hotel convention facilities on hold, due to the economy, and is not believed to be happy about Nashville taxpayers building a city-subsidized competitor. That's why a gubernatorial candidate got a nice reception at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Nashville recently and got an earful about Ingram, the Haslam campaign consultant, trying to stop their downtown convention center.