Newspaper: arena manager wanted to conceal records

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The manager of Nashville’s Sommet Center has backed off a plan to conceal from the public financial information about events held at the city-owned arena.

A letter obtained by The Tennessean shows Hugh Lombardi, executive vice president of Powers Management, wanted to set up a committee to discuss the information in private.

Powers Management operates the Sommet Center. Powers is also the sister company of the Nashville Predators hockey team.

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Under the Predators’ lease with the city, Powers can earn up to $2 million a year as an incentive to book more events, generate more revenue and reduce the city’s operating deficit. Powers says it earned $1.9 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The fee is based in part on up to 15 events designated by Powers as “special events.” The lease allows the company to keep the rent paid by promoters to stage those events, subject to approval by the Sports Authority.

Lombardi said in the letter to the chairman of the Metro Sports Authority’s Finance Committee that keeping financial information about the events private would make it easier to negotiate future ones.

The proposed arrangement “enables us to avoid making a public disclosure of material terms and financial results,” Lombardi wrote on Nov. 3 to J.D. Elliott, the committee’s chairman.

He proposed that a four-person panel analyze the financial details of each special event and make a recommendation to the authority.

The panel would have included one Sports Authority member, a Metro Finance Department official, a city attorney and a Powers Management representative.

Steve North, a member of the Sports Authority, told the newspaper last week that he was concerned about the proposal.

“It troubles me from a legal standpoint as a lawyer,” North said. “And from a public standpoint, it troubles me that it prevents not only the public from scrutinizing this, but it prevents the sports authority from scrutinizing this.”

Lomardi withdrew his plan Friday after feedback from the Finance Committee members. He said he’s working on a new proposal that would better balance public interest and business concerns.

“We’re trying to protect the interests of the city,” Lombardi said. “It’s all about protecting the clients we work with, the promoters and the artists. It’s sensitive information. But we’re also trying to be transparent.”