As the Middle Tennessee Nursery Association prepares for its final show in McMinnville, controversy surrounds the decision to move the annual trade show to Murfreesboro.
“We haven’t been able to work with the city at all,” said MTNA Trade Show president David Hitchcock. “We’ve been trying to negotiate another three-year contract to stay here, but it just didn’t work out. The city has said it does not benefit from having a nursery trade show in McMinnville.”
Added trade show chairman Brandon Fuston, “We’ve met no telling how many times about this and we just couldn’t work it out.”
The annual MTNA Trade Show has been held in McMinnville for the past 21 years. It will take place today and tomorrow at the Civic Center with 114 booth vendors.
Last year, the show had an attendance of 847 people. Between customers and vendors, there were representatives from 28 states last year.
One source of contention centered around the cost to reserve McMinnville Civic Center. City administrator David Rutherford says MTNA will pay $3,950 to use the Civic Center this year. That includes two days to set up Wednesday and Thursday, the two days of the show itself, and $420 for clean up Monday.
The proposed figure for next year was $4,720.
“What we’re trying to do is cover our expenses instead of subsidizing the show and the nursery industry with taxpayer dollars,” said Rutherford. “They’ve been saying for years they’d like to go to another city with nicer hotels so I think this is just a way for them to leave town and blame the city. I don’t think they’re going to be able to find a place in Murfreesboro for $4,000.”
McMinnville Mayor Norman Rone says the city firmly supports the nursery industry.
“They were getting it at the same price for years and years and we felt like we were justified in going up on the price,” said Rone. “I hate to see them move off to Murfreesboro especially with us being the supposed Nursery Capital of the World.”
Both Rone and Rutherford said they had been trying to work with MTNA to modify the show to make it more appealing to retail customers. In its current format, the show mainly caters to wholesalers.
“We wanted to make it a true nursery show and advertise it in larger cities up to a half day away,” said Rutherford. “That way it would invite folks from outside this area to come in and see our community. That’s really where you get a lot of your growth, from people who just happen to come into your town, find out they like it, and decide to come back.”
Despite attempts to stay, MTNA officials say they’re viewing the move from McMinnville as a positive step.
“I think most people are excited about the change,” said Hitchcock. “We been here for 21 years, but our numbers have been down the last four years. Not being able to work with the city, and the fact our numbers are down, we decided to try something new.”
The trade show attracted 180 vendors just four years ago.
Rutherford said he didn’t realize MTNA was moving the trade show until this week.
“We had told them we would see how this year’s show turned out and go from there,” said Rutherford. “There was a chance for us to come down from the figure we had given them and maybe cost only about $500 more next year.”