NASHVILLE - Gov. Phil Bredesen and other elected officials are dedicating a new underground meeting hall at the governor's mansion in Nashville.
Among those scheduled to join the Democratic governor at the Thursday evening event were Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, former Gov. Winfield Dunn and several state lawmakers.
The facility was derided by some as the "Bredesen Bunker," because of the scope, cost and noise of the project under the front lawn of the mansion.
Private donors accounted for about $5 million of the $9 million project officially dubbed Conservation Hall. The complex can seat up to 160 dining guests - big enough for all 132 lawmakers and the governor's cabinet - or about double that capacity for standing receptions. It has its own kitchen and entrance from the compound's driveway.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey was among the hall's critics and said Thursday he still considers it a mistake. But Ramsey, a Blountville Republican who is running for governor, said he would still use the facility if elected.
"What am I going to do, just board up the windows?" he said. "I wish it had never been built. But it's been built, so use it."
Ramsey said he wasn't invited to the dedication ceremony. The governor's office, however, said the speaker's office declined an invitation because of a scheduling conflict.
Bredesen isn't the first governor to run into opposition for improvements to the governor's residence. For example, then-Gov. Henry Horton was criticized for buying a $2,800 piano for a previous official residence with state funds in 1929.
The piano purchase was among the articles of impeachment leveled against the Democratic governor for alleged financial malfeasance. The House ultimately rejected Horton's impeachment.