Luxury waterpark might get thrown government favoritism; Nashville taxpayers might get thrown underwater

Luxury waterpark might get thrown government favoritism; Nashville taxpayers might get thrown underwater

Bureau Chief’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series about tax incentives Ryman Entertainment may get to build a waterpark in Nashville.

Nashville Metro Council member Jim Shulman says it’s unfair Ryman Entertainment could get $14 million in tax incentives to build a waterpark while many city residents prepare for higher property taxes.

On Tuesday, council members may give away $14 million in incentives so Ryman can build Soundwaves, what the company’s CEO reportedly calls “a waterpark on steroids” at the Gaylord Hotel.

The park, if built, will reportedly take up 217,000 square feet.

Shulman told Tennessee Watchdog he plans to vote against the proposal because Nashville taxpayers get nothing in return.

SOUNDWAVES: An artist's rendering of what Soundwaves will look like (photo courtesy of Ryman Entertainment).

SOUNDWAVES: An artist’s rendering of what Soundwaves will look like (photo courtesy of Ryman Entertainment).

“I asked the (city’s) Director of Economic Development, Matt Wilshire, for reports and articles that demonstrate whether these types of tax breaks have been shown to actually work,” Shulman said.

Wilshire is supposed to provide that information before Tuesday, Shulman added.

Staff members in Mayor Megan Barry’s office reportedly orchestrated the Ryman incentive deal. No one in her office returned a request for comment as of Thursday.

Shulman said this package deal makes him uncomfortable, especially knowing what Nashville taxpayers are about to endure.

RELATED — Proposed waterpark might soak Nashville in more debt

None of Shulman’s 39 colleagues on the council returned requests for comment.

According to a recent story in the Tennessean, property values in the county “are poised to increase on average by a record 34.5 percent.”

The paper calls this an “historically high appreciation.”

Ryman spokeswoman Shannon Sullivan said in an email the economic benefits of Soundwaves would eventually reverberate throughout all of Nashville.

“I would draw your attention specifically to the information regarding the economic impact the project is expected to produce during construction and once it’s operational,” Sullivan said.

“We believe this project will be a tremendous generator of state and local tax revenue and that it will create many new jobs for Nashville’s residents.”

Sullivan did not answer Tennessee Watchdog’s questions about the specific benefits of Soundwaves for Nashville taxpayers or the burden of higher property taxes on Nashville residents.

Jim Shulman (photo courtesy of Facebook)

Jim Shulman (photo courtesy of Facebook)

As reported, she referred to a study written by William Fox at the University of Tennessee’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.

The study estimates SoundWaves, if built, would generate 1,287 full-time temporary jobs, $185 million in economic impact and a one-time increase of $8.4 million in state and local taxes during its planned 20-month construction phase.

The study makes many assumptions and guesses about how this would play out. As of Thursday, no one at the Boyd Center had returned a request for comment about the methodology used to generate conclusions and how much faith researchers have in their reasoning.

Meeting expectations

On Thursday, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based free market think tank, released a statement saying the $14 million in incentives city officials want to give Ryman is better spent elsewhere.

“Based on average salaries in the city of Nashville, this $14 million tax break to the Opryland hotel could have paid for one year’s salary for 276 teachers, 280 police officers, or 335 firefighters,” the statement said.

RELATED — Nashville’s Airbnbs get taxed, but swank hotels get the benefits

Beacon spokesman Mark Cunningham, who lives in Nashville, said the proposed incentive package impacts him personally.

“I’m a homeowner in Nashville and when my taxes go up I have to watch my spending,” Cunningham said.

Shannon Sullivan (photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

Shannon Sullivan (photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

“Ultimately, hundreds of jobs are promised because of this deal, but are they worth $14 million? Probably not. A lot of times promises like these don’t meet expectations.”

If the package goes through Tuesday, WSMV reported, Ryman will donate two parcels of land to create public boat access to the nearby Cumberland River.

As reported, all of this is happening even though the city already has a popular, privately run waterpark — Nashville Shores.

Assuming the proposed incentive package passes, Nashville Shores will compete with Soundwaves for customers. No one at Nashville Shores has returned repeated requests for comment.

Ryman officials won’t make Soundwaves available to everyone. To use the park, customers must rent a room at the Gaylord.

The Tennessean reports the deal would keep Opryland’s property tax payments flat through 2015 after this year’s reappraisal. Nashville plans to forfeit $1.63 million in annual property taxes the city would have collected from the waterpark.

The paper says Ryman officials will spend $90 million of their own money on the project and that, as part of the deal, company officials must build the park before September 2019.

Cunningham said anyone upset about the proposal needs to speak up before Tuesday.

“The Metro Council hasn’t gotten a lot of backlash from the other deals they’ve given out, and this seems like the type of deal that will really get people fired up,” Cunningham said.

“If you’re not happy then you need to make your voice heard.”

Contact Christopher Butler at

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  • Troof Detector

    Taxpayers are about to get the royal screw from Mayor Dinglebarry and others.

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