NASHVILLE -- Nashville is undergoing a revival. Tourism sagged for
Music City USA after a peak in 1997, but now it's coming back with
"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
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."
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
Fan Fair was held previously at Nashville's Tennessee State
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
"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.