Tag Archives: Nashville

Repaired and Improved Opryland Resort Ready for the Holidays

4 Nov

Nashville's Opryland Resort convention space after flood repairs.

Gaylord Opryland Resort will reopen on Nov. 15 after being closed since May of this year when flood waters caused major devastation to the complex. More than 800,000-sq. ft. of space was wet in one way or another.

Nashville’s largest hotel and convention center had damage to all three atriums, some of the meeting space, 100 hotel rooms, several restaurants, the lobby and the power plant, according to David Kloeppel, president & COO at the complex. The hotel has 2,880 rooms and 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

“We ended up with $225 million cost and improvement,” Kloeppel said. “Since the hotel was going to be closed, we decided to take that opportunity and make upgrades that couldn’t be done while the hotel is open. We spent $30 million of that figure in upgrades that were not flood related.”

One of the first things the work crew did was salvage the fish and the one duck that live in the hotel. Then they drained and cleaned the river in the Delta area and the waterfalls in the other atriums. Many of the larger trees made it through the flood, and the fish and duck are back in their homes.

Kloeppel said while the waters were rising, his staff worked to set up a remediation crew and find air-handling equipment and generators to stabilize the air quality and dehumidify and pump the water.

“The engineering team on property had been there since the resort was built, and the general contractor, D.F. Chase, still works with us, as do the electrical contractors and structural engineers.”

New restaurants in the Cascades include Revello, which offers Italian fare, and Salario, which brings in Mexican cuisine. The restaurant in the Delta area was not restored. There is now seating for guests alongside the river.

WSM Radio will return to its studios in the Magnolia Lobby. Kloeppel said that area, including the shops, was not severely damaged. Carpet was replaced in the entry into the convention and exhibit areas. All the hotel rooms in that area were upgraded.

The convention and meeting rooms on the second floor sustained little damage, but the concrete on the lower level had to be pressure washed before renovation could begin. The outside of the hotel remains basically the same, and Christmas lights are already in place for the lighting ceremony in mid-November.

“Grand opening is right on time and on budget, and that’s something we like to be able to say,” Kloeppel said. “Our team worked around the clock these last six months, and did an unbelievable job to bring this place back.”

More than 80 percent of the staff will return to the hotel when it opens, which Kemp Gallineau, SVP and chief sales officer, said is a good thing for the hotel and their guests. “We will be able to provide the same level of service that we had in the past and which our clients are accustomed to.”

While Kloeppel and his staff were working on renovations, Gallineau and his team were contacting clients and helping them relocate their meetings. In the renovation process they lost 30 percent of the revenue stream.

“We met with customers either by flying out to talk to them or through conference calls,” Gallineau said. “We looked at the availability for not just our brand in Nashville and other cities, but other hotels and venues.”

More than 300,000 room nights were moved to other locations, and about 20,000 canceled and moved to dates after the venue would reopen.

Gallineau said his staff never stopped booking meetings because they were already booking into 2011 and beyond. “We have groups operating in November and December that had been on the books, and we have picked up some short-term business for November through December. We will operate close to 50,000 group room nights after we reopen.

“We are ahead of pace for our holiday bookings, so we are seeing a surge of people very interested in coming out for our Country Christmas,” Gallineau continued. “The show is a family tradition for many people. That is why it was important for us to be open in November.”

Upcoming activities include the Louise Mandrell Country Christmas and the Rockettes. The popular Ice exhibit will return, which features 2 million pounds of ice carved into winter scenes. Next door will be the new feature, Snow, where kids and their parents can build snow castles, throw snow balls and make snow angels in 18-20 inches of snow. – Vernell Hackett


Interviewed for this story: David Kloeppel and Kemp Gallineau, (615) 316-6000


Newly-Constituted Tennessee Fair Sees Attendance Jump

23 Oct

Exhibiting livestock at the Tennessee State Fair, Nashville.

Attendance at the Tennessee State Fair, Nashville, rose 18 percent, from last year’s 204,000 to 241,000, including a record 61,000 attendance on the last Saturday of the fair  – no small feat considering that metro government disbanded the event last year and a carnival and a production company joined forces to make sure the show went on.

Officials expected 2009 to be the last year for the Tennessee State Fair on the hilly 117 acres of land it has called home in Nashville for several years.

But Mike Williams of Jackson, Miss-based North American Midway Entertainment, which had a three-year contract to provide the fair’s carnival, decided to pair up with a local entertainment company to produce the event.

“The land was sitting there idle and we figured we could use it and create the event ourselves,” Williams said.

Scott Jones, a former fair employee who also had served as fair coordinator before, worked with Rockhouse Partners in Nashville to book entertainment, market the fair and provide events in addition to the 29 rides that NAME placed on the midway after the group rented back the property from metro government.

The event was held Sept. 10-19.

This time, all rides and events were set up on the top of the hill to keep fairgoers from having to walk up and down steep areas of property. “We knew it was going to be different so we thought we might as well change it up, and it worked,” Jones said.

“We split the carnival up and put rides around the buildings, so it had more of a street fair feeling.”

A kids zone and a thrill zone were separated, Jones said, which worked better than expected.

Chrysty Fortner, director of sponsorships for Rockhouse Partners who was instrumental in planning the fair, said the budget for the fair, which she believes will end up profitable when all receipts are tabulated, was about $1.2 million.

The producers had to be clever when it came to both entertainment and marketing. “Nashville is a hard market,” Jones said. “I’ve been doing it for years, trying to get people to bring top talent. It’s a hard market for country.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville has been booking acts that typically might play a fair, including Rick Springfield, Styx and REO Speedwagon – and on a year-round basis.

“We would go for them but they are playing at the Wildhorse all year long,” he said. “It saturates the market.”

Luckily for the fair, Nashville has a lot of excellent local and unknown acts, and so auditions were held for bands of all genres that would play a steady stream of concerts in the food court.

“We even had a Beatles cover band,” Fortner said. “It was really fun family entertainment and that works well for us.”

Also, for an event that was not even supposed to be held, the fair was the site of the filming of a TV commercial, a feature film, a documentary film and parts of the ABC reality show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

After floods devastated parts of Nashville last May, “Extreme Makeover” visited Nashville to rebuild a pre-school. The timing coincided with the fair.

On the show, ABC typically sends a family whose house is being built to Disney World. Since it was not possible to do that with 325 children, they instead spent the day at the Tennessee State Fair, with country crooner LeAnn Rimes and Paul DiMeo, a carpenter on the show.

As for marketing, Fortner told media outlets that she was interested in them partnering with the fair. “Every media outlet that we bought from gave us something of significant value, whether it be midday talk show spots or access to their e-mail blast list,” she said. “If you buy radio time and get a live event and get them to send out an e-mail blast, then you are reaching a much larger audience and then I can control the message.”

The number of friends on the fair’s Facebook page jumped from negligible to more than 5,000. Fortner credits the tech-oriented employees at Rockhouse Partners for posting quips that garnered comments.

“The guy at Rockhouse would post something and we would have 515 comments, fun things that people like to do. Like, ‘Finish this sentence: He reached into the deep fryer and pulled out a _______.’ And there were tickets at stake, so it was a contest,” Fortner said.

Gate admission cost $8 at the gate or $4 in advance online or at Kroger, the same price as last year. Pay-one-price wristbands to ride the carnival rides cost $20, down from last year’s $21, because it was easier, Jones said.

A lot of details about next year remain up in the air, but Jones said a fair should be held next year, from Sept. 8-18. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Scott Jones and Chrysty Fortner, (615) 873-0924; Mike Williams, (601) 898-5533.

Grand Ole Opry House Ready for Shows After Flood

10 Sep

Little Jimmy Dickens celebrates the rebuilding of the Grand Ole Opry house with Brad Paisley.

When the Cumberland River went over its banks in May, the Grand Ole Opry house in Nashville, Tenn., sustained major damage, including the loss of much of its electrical system, lights, pews and carpet on the main floor and the stage’s wooden floor, all covered by 46 inches of water. The balcony area of the venue was not affected by the flood waters.

When all repairs were complete, the rebuild of the venue cost in the neighborhood of $20 million, according to Debbie Ballentine, executive director of operations at the Grand Ole Opry. After months of hard work, the Opry house will finally reopen its doors on Sept. 28, several weeks ahead of schedule.

On Monday morning after the flood, Opry staff members had to find a place to hold the Tuesday night Opry house, and alert ticket holders about the location of the new venue. A remediation company brought fans into the building to start drying the wood so workers could get inside.

“Sally Williams, general manager of the Ryman, began contacting Nashville area venues on Monday to book the Opry shows in other venues,” Opry Vice President and General Manager Pete Fisher, explained. “We secured War Memorial Auditorium for that first Tuesday night show. It had been the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1939-1943. It probably took two to three weeks to finalize all the dates with different venues.”

The Opry held shows at Lipscomb University, Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville Municipal Auditorium, War Memorial Auditorium, the Ryman Auditorium and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Theatre. The Opry did not miss a show during the five months it was on what Fisher calls the High Water Tour.

R.W. Matthews of Nashville was the general contractor overviewing the construction. Wolfe & Travis Electrical was the electrical contractor, and Anderson Design worked on the interior of the venue. David Plummer of PLAD Studio worked on getting the inside of the house ready.

“For the most part, it was truly a rebuild, but we definitely had an architect looking at everything we did,” Ballentine said. “We were very fortunate that the contractors we worked with were people who had worked there before and were familiar with the building.”

“Clair Brothers in Nashville did the audio and video, Bandit Lites in Knoxville did the lighting, and United Staging out of Alabama handled rigging and soft goods,” Fisher said. “Music manufacturers like Peavey and Yahama stepped up to help out in a big way.”

The new stage, which sports a teak floor, has all new moving lights by Vari-Lites and a new audio monitor system. The new stage curtains remain a deep burgundy color, and the riggings and backdrops were repaired. The signature barn backdrop now sports a high definition video projection system including an LCD video wall. There are new front-of-house amplifiers and additional speaker cabinets. The main floor of the Ryman has newly built pews identical to the ones that were lost in the flood and new carpet.

The new entry doors have stained glass, a reminder of the stained glass windows at the Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Opry from 1943 to 1974.

The backstage entrance now has a warmer and more inviting look to it as artists and guests enter the building. The 18 dressing rooms have a slightly different layout and each is themed to tell a chapter about the Opry. Roy Acuff’s dressing room remains the one closest to the stage. Workers were able to salvage the brass plate on his door which reads “Ain’t nothing gonna come up today that me and the good Lord can’t handle.” Porter Wagoner’s dressing room, designed by Marty Stuart, remains, and a Minnie Pearl room has been added. The administrative offices, also located backstage at the Opry house, were completely renovated.

The stage doors inside the house were preserved to be displayed in the Opry Museum because there was a clear line where the flood waters reached. The Green Room has a bronze marker that shows how high the water was in the building.

“The backstage at the Opry house will have accommodations and aesthetic appeal unlike any backstage I’ve ever seen in any venue,” Fisher said.  “We have done all that can be done to weave the Opry’s legacy through this newly renovated Opry house.”

Studio A, located behind the dressing rooms, is being retooled to accommodate mobile productions. Fisher said now that the Opry house is finished, they will determine what to do with the Acuff Theatre, the Grand Ole Opry museum and other facilities at the complex.

When the Grand Ole Opry returns to its home, Opry members including Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels Band, Montgomery Gentry, and Brad Paisley will be on hand to celebrate. The two-hour show will air live on GAC: Great American Country.

Special events and artist appearances will follow throughout October in celebration of both the show’s return and its 85th Birthday. The Opry will resume its regular schedule the weekend of Oct. 2, when there will be an open house for fans to see the renovated venue. There will be music on the plaza and free tours of the building, plus regular Opry shows on Friday and Saturday night. — Vernell Hackett

Interviewed for this article: Debbie Ballentine and Pete Fischer, (615) 316-6000