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Free Lunch?

The new downtown convention center comes with a long-announced $160 million price tag—part of a $600 million public/private partnership investment package. That doesn't include the cost of condemning the Holiday Inn, demolishing it and building in its place a new visitor's center, which is now allegedly required—despite the $5.5 million visitor's center we just built over by the waterfront.

"There is some belief we can do all this with the $160 million we voted for the convention center," said skeptical Councilwoman Carlene Malone—one of two votes against taking the Holiday Inn property.

But neither Mayor Victor Ashe, Public Building Authority lawyer Tom McAdams, nor the seven Council members who voted for the condemnation was willing to admit that it will cost money.

Councilman Ed Shouse: "I voted for $160 million...That's what I voted for and that's the number I will continue to support....I'm going to have great problems if we come up and have to have huge amounts of millions more dollars... for the demolition and reconstruction on the Holiday Inn site." Shouse said he would "strongly encourage" Holiday Inn owner Franklin Haney and the city to "work this out as ladies and friends." (The kind of friends who knock down each other's houses?)

Strange How That Happens...

On Tuesday morning, it looked like the Holiday Inn still had a shot. Ed Shouse was telling people he had doubts. Gary Underwood was wavering over the cost of the proposed visitor's center. Danny Mayfield was listening politely to constituents who were asking him not to vote for condemnation. These three, plus Malone and Nick Pavlis, the known "no" votes, would have been enough to derail the project. By meeting time, however, Shouse, Underwood, and Mayfield were safely back on the reservation.

That Explains the Waddle

There's not much that Lewis (pronounced Louie) R. Donelson III hasn't seen, when it comes to politics and government, so he wasn't expecting any surprises when he attended Knoxville City Council Tuesday night.

But he'd never seen Victor Ashe annex.

Donelson, who's been practicing law for 60 years, has held a variety of appointed state offices and served as a member of Memphis City Council. It was he who brought the state to its knees with his "Small Schools" lawsuit.

But that's another story. Donelson, along with Howard Baker, is a main honcho in the firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell, which represents Franklin Haney, owner of the now-condemned Holiday Inn Select. He was forced to sit through one of Ashe's patented annexation proceedings (i.e. Ashe reading annexation ordinances at the pace of a tobacco auctioneer, unwilling new Knoxvillians-to-be begging for mercy, City Council (save Malone and Pavlis) turning a deaf ear to their supplications) while waiting for the ax to fall on his client.

When it finally came his time to speak, Donelson implored City Council—in vain—not to make a dumb decision. Later, he expressed astonishment at the way the city conducts business. Not the business of condemning his client's property, but the process of annexation.

"I've never in my life seen annexation done this way," Donelson said. "We annexed in Memphis when I was on City Council, but never a lot at a time, and never empty lots. I've never seen anything like it. Of course, Victor always was a weird duck.. "

Doesn't Listen Well to Others

When it came time for Donelson's colleague, Joe Conner, to make the legal case against condemning Holiday Inn, Ashe, who tends to get fidgety when forced to listen to those with whom he disagrees, got up and left. When Conner took 10 seconds out of his allotted five minutes to remark on Ashe's absence, Vice Mayor Jack Sharp remarked that Hizzonor would be back. And sure enough, the mayor returned shortly thereafter, muttering something about the call of nature and the state of his bladder. As Conner attempted to resume his argument, Ashe pulled out a handkerchief and commenced to blowing his nose in noisy proximity to his open microphone.


July 27, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 30
© 2000 Metro Pulse