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VOL. 35 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 13, 2011

NHL commissioner hints at All-Star Game for Nashville

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Last week, 115 local and regional business and community leaders visited Toronto as part of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Study Mission. This year’s trip marked the 20th of these ventures and focused on positioning Nashville as a global city.

In Toronto, the delegates spent three days learning of the cultural, economic, infrastructural and political composition of the city of Toronto. They found a city of more than 2.7 million residents, a staggering 50 percent of whom were not born there. This segment of the population boasts natives of 140 countries. To give that number some perspective, the United Nations has 192 member states.

Toronto embraces and celebrates its various cultures as they bring international business and economic development opportunities.

In one of the more interesting segments, the group was regaled in a speech from Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League.

At the time, the Predators were still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs and Bettman spoke of the Predators’ success and how a sports franchise, in particular an NHL hockey team, can provide an international presence to a city. He noted that Nashville’s team had candidates in the running for postseason honors, including Barry Trotz (the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year), Pekka Rinne (Vezina Trophy for the league’s award for the best goalkeeper) and Shea Weber (James Norris Trophy for top defenseman).

Bettman recalled his first meeting with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and shared that he and his office had a pool wagering on how long it would take Dean to request that Nashville serve as host to the NHL All-Star Game. Bettman bet the mayor would ask within the first three minutes of their conversation. He lost the bet, as Dean asked him in the first minute and a-half.

Bettman noted the mayor of Charlotte had the same request, and that it took Charlotte more than 10 years to build its convention center. When it did, the NHL delivered the All-Star game. He was surprised and impressed that construction of the Music City Center began only a few months after his visit. Based on that project, the commissioner said he would bring the NHL All-Star game to Nashville following completion of the Music City Center.

Tom Cigarran, team chairman of the Predators, was on hand and noted that the Predators’ playoff run had provided a great deal of international exposure. For the first round of playoff games, he noted, there were credential requests for 54 members of the international media. In the second round, that number increased to 154.

While the hockey team is certainly carrying its share of the load for Nashville, Toronto is flourishing with its immigration and job creation. Randy McLain, a Toronto official, addressed the Nashville group and explained a demographic situation that families are having fewer children than in years past, and that the work force is aging. Consequently, if a city is to grow, it cannot rely on the growth of the workforce to come from within the city.

In effect, the influx of an educated, competent workforce brings work. Such seems to be the case in Toronto, as its skyline is decorated with scores of cranes. More condominiums are currently under construction than Nashville has ever witnessed.

There are more jobs than people, according Anthony Haines, president and CEO of Toronto Hydro Corporation, who says the area could absorb tens of thousands of workers. This environment had bred an active real estate market with urban condominiums being one of the only affordable options to home ownership.

In Nashville, the real estate market is showing signs of life as the “multiple-offer scenario” has eased back into the picture in several market segments and the sales figures released by the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors show gains over the same period in 2009. Sales for April in 2011 are down from the same period last year, but sales were inflated last year by the first time homebuyer’s tax credit offered by the federal government.

Sales for April 2011 were up from April 2009, a sign that the market is recovering somewhat from the jolt it experienced during the Great Recession.

In closing, there is another significant difference in Toronto and Nashville. In Toronto, the mayor is referred to as “your worship.” Anne Davis, the wife of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, is insistent that the “your worship” tradition stays in Toronto. I don’t know. He kept the Preds here. That’s worth something.

Ricahrd Courtney is a Realtor with Pilkerton Realtors and author of "Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles."

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