Goings-on in Nashville point to changed destination By Tony Bartlett / November 24, 1999 Share 1 -- NASHVILLE -- Simply put, Nashville has changed. "In the last five years, we've evolved from a regional to an international, year-round destination," said Butch Spyridon, executive vice president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau."Downtown has exploded with new restaurants, evening entertainment and nightclubs," he said.And there is another new side to Music City USA, Spyridon said: big-league sports.Nashville is home to the National Football League's Tennessee Titans, who play at the Adelphia Coliseum, and the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators, headquartered at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.Both franchises are in their second year in the city."Music makes us unique, but sports are putting us in a new and different light," said Spyridon.Nashville recently hosted the National Tour Association's annual convention, with 3,400 participants, including more than 700 tour-operator delegates."The convention's timing couldn't have been better," he said. "We've changed and have a lot of new product to showcase."We've been undergoing a transition, where we've been catering more to tour operators."Spyridon added that cities hosting the NTA convention traditionally see results, but the new Nashville expects to see "a significant impact."Its change from a regional destination, heavily dependent on summer day trippers and families, is borne out by the CVB's statistics.Last year 33% of visitors arrived by air; in 1993, only 16% did.Following are some other pertinent numbers, with 1993 percentages in parentheses: 16% of visitors were part of an organized group (10%); 69% stayed in a hotel (52%), and only 11% stayed with family or friends (19%).The period also saw increases in the average stay (from 3.7 nights to 4.1 nights) and average spending per leisure visitor per day (from $33.92 to $52.22).However, last year, the city saw a decline of several hundred thousand visitors from 1997, to 9.5 million.The CVB expects 1999 to end as a no-growth year.According to Spyridon, the closing of the Opryland Theme Park, an amusement attraction popular with families, in December 1997 had much to do with the decline.Opry Mills, a $200 million, 1.2 million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex being built on the site, with 200 stores and an Imax theater, will open in May.The complex is adjacent to the 2,884-room Opryland Hotel, where the NTA convention was held.Other Nashville attractions opened this year or under construction are the following:Cheekwood, Nashville's Home of Art and Gardens, a $17 million museum with 55 acres of botanical gardens, which opened last summer.The continuing expansion of Nashville Zoo at Grassmere.The rural Nashville Zoo merged last year with, and relocated to, downtown's 200-acre Grassmere Wildlife Park and will expand.The $40 million Frist Center for the Visual Arts, being developed in downtown's post office building. The center will open in the spring of 2001.The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, which will open soon downtown.The new $40 million Country Music Hall of Fame, for which ground was broken last June, will open in the summer of 2001.