Nashville gets 'diversified' with new venues

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NASHVILLE -- Nashville is undergoing a revival. Tourism sagged for Music City USA after a peak in 1997, but now it's coming back with new attractions.

"We have a great new and diversified product," said Butch Spyridon, executive vice president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We're ready to move forward," he said, adding that "convention growth kept us afloat during the summers with record numbers."

Monthly hotel room tax collections, on average, have been running at more than a 3% increase since last summer, and inquiries to the bureau's call center this year are up 50%, he said.

"We've positioned Nashville as a year-round destination, not just for summer, and it's beginning to pay off," Spyridon said. "We've added marketing muscle and increased consumer advertising and wholesaler and airline partnerships.

"We're almost there. We're well-positioned to exceed 1997."

Opry Mills in Nashville.One reason given for the visitor decline was the Opryland theme park's closing in December of 1997. Another drawback, which came up in visitor surveys, was a lack of shopping venues, Spyridon said.

With that in mind, Nashville welcomed Opry Mills in May 2000. The $200 million, 1.2 million-square-foot complex of 200 stores, restaurants and entertainment venues is adjacent to the Opryland Hotel and Grand Ole Opry .

Spyridon said Opry Mills has not drawn more overnight visitors but "has filled a void."

"Opry Mills was not expected to [revive Nashville tourism], but taken together with the other new attractions -- the visual arts center, the speedway and the Country Music Hall of Fame -- it will definitely [increase market share]," Spyridon said.

New this year are:

  • The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, a $50 million arts center, which opened downtown in April. It is housed in the restored historical post office building on Broadway, with a handful of galleries containing traveling and permanent exhibitions. Its Web site is at www.fristcenter.org.
  • The $37 million Country Music Hall of Fame, which opened downtown May 17. Near the Gaylord Entertainment Center, the 135,000-square-foot facility includes a 225-seat theater and triple the exhibit space of the former Hall of Fame, which closed in December. Its Web site is at www.countrymusichalloffame.com.
  • The $125 million Nashville SuperSpeedway, which contains five racetracks and 50,000 grandstand seats, opened in Wilson County in April. Its Web site is at www.nashvillesuperspeedway.com.
  • The visual arts center and hall of fame will help a downtown that already has seen revitalization in recent years with new restaurants and nightclubs. Spyridon pointed out another downtown booster, Fan Fair.

    Billed as the World's Biggest Country Music Festival, Fan Fair "has reinvented itself," Spyridon said.

    Advance ticket sales are way ahead of last year, he added.

    For its 30th anniversary event, June 14 through 17, the festival will move to larger venues downtown, with concerts and events at the Adelphia Coliseum, Riverside Park and the Nashville Convention Center.

    Fan Fair was held previously at Nashville's Tennessee State Fairgrounds.

    Another component in the diversification of Tennessee's capital is sports. Two professional sports franchises are in their fourth year in the city. Adelphia is home to the National Football League's Tennessee Titans, and the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators play at Gaylord Entertainment Center.

    Looking back on a decline in business that began in the early 1990s, Spyridon blamed it on the failure to diversify, which formed Nashville's image as "a one-dimensional town."

    "Traditionally, Nashville had a corner on [several markets], especially the motorcoach market," he said. "We had great marketing, and we came out looking great.

    "Then we got stuck. We didn't diversify. Places like Branson [Mo.] began cutting into our motorcoach business."

    Today, despite the bureau's promotion of Nashville's diversification, Spyridon wants it known that "this is still Music City USA."

    "The best thing about it all is we're colored by music. Everywhere you go there is live entertainment. We don't want to run away from Music City USA," Spyridon said.

    For more information, call the Nashville CVB at (800) 657-6910 or visit its Web site at www.nashvillecvb.com.

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