MDHA Chief Budgeted $900,000 for Convention Center PR

The Metro Development and Housing Agency chief said Tuesday he budgeted $900,000 for communications about the proposed downtown convention center. MDHA has been under fire for allowing a $75,000 PR contract with McNeely Pigott & Fox to balloon to more than $450,000.

MDHA knew the PR firm would go over the initial cap, says director Phil Ryan.

“But in the spirit of the request to communicate, we moved forward with that number and with that process as quickly as possible.”

The MDHA board later voted to make the contract open-ended, but Ryan says he had a total communications budget of $900,000.

Board chairman Chase Cole says the initial contract was not an attempt to hide the amount ultimately budgeted for public relations.

“I don’t get sticker shock from that, recognizing the importance of the public communication part of this. We want transparency on this project. We want everyone to know what’s going on, and that’s the job of the PR firm, the communications firm, is to help us get those messages out.”

Aside from organizing community meetings, McNeely Pigott & Fox charged for tracking blogs and twittering about the convention center.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has suspended the contract. City accountants are reviewing the invoices. Cole says the MDHA board will decide at next month’s meeting whether the PR firm veered outside the scope of its job.

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