I-Team: For-profit company gets free office space in publicly-ow - WSMV News 4

I-Team: For-profit company gets free office space in publicly-owned convention center

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The Music City Center opened in 2013. (WSMV) The Music City Center opened in 2013. (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A company that’s been the focus of a News4 I-Team investigation into spending at the Fairgrounds is getting a sweet deal on downtown rent. 

The I-Team has learned that Commonwealth Development Group, which is owned by a friend of Metro Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling, has free office space in Music City Center, Nashville's five-year-old state-of-the-art convention center. 

Commonwealth is a for-profit company. Its staff has offices in the administrative area of the convention center, which is a publicly-owned property. 
 
News 4’s Nancy Amons asked the owner of Commonwealth Development, Larry Atema if he pays rent.  

"We do not," Atema said. 

Atema’s company has a contract to oversee work at the Fairgrounds. The News 4 I-Team discovered that taxpayers paid Atema's company more than half a million dollars in the last year and a half in management fees for Fairgrounds projects. 

Atema's company recently finished some repair work at  Nissan Stadium as well as an addition to the Music City Center.

Atema said the downtown space is convenient. 

"It works [well] because you're right there and you can deal with the day-to-day things that happen immediately," Atema said. 

News4 asked Marty Dickens, chairman of the convention center authority,  why a for-profit company would get free office space. 

"I don't have an answer for that," Dickens said.  He told Amons he was unaware of the arrangement. 

It's hard to put an exact dollar figure on the value of the perk.  

Christine Deltufo, a researcher at the locally-based commercial real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, said downtown office space rents for an average of $29 per square foot. We were unable to find out how much space Commonwealth’s staff has at the Music City Center. 

After our story aired, Chairman of the Convention Center Authority Marty Dickens emailed News4, saying in part:

"I did tell you that I wasn’t aware of the arrangements Commonwealth Development had with using space in the MCC. But I went on to say that the specifics of a contractor using space in the MCC did not require Authority approval and that it was a management decision. I went on to say that since Commonwealth Development has done and continues to do work at the MCC, providing them space in an unused portion of the MCC was probably smart business because it meant they were on site to make sure things got done correctly."

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