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VOL. 46 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 13, 2022

Nashville ‘a roof shy’ of landing other major events

By Tom Wood

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The cranes that have dotted the Nashville skyline have left behind a wealth of new hotel rooms.

-- Photograph Provided

If the Titans build an enclosed stadium and Nashville someday hosts a Super Bowl, rest assured the Music City hospitality industry is confident it can handle the crowds that come with such events.

That’s the word from Leesa LeClaire, president and CEO of the Greater Nashville Hospitality Association.

She calls the stadium proposal “a game-changer” that would boost not only the city’s profile but the segments that she represents – hotels, restaurants, the attractions and other related businesses – in both Nashville and the surrounding counties.

“Once somebody comes to town, it’s not just one thing they’re going to go to,” she says. “Whether they’re going to a football game or they’re going to a concert, they’re likely gonna do a restaurant or two, maybe a honky-tonk, an art museum and, of course, local shops and boutiques. So it really is a huge game-changer.”

Though it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison because of attendance numbers, the Music City Center provides comparison for daily bookings that an enclosed stadium might be expected to enjoy.

In 2019, the multipurpose convention facility drew 260 events attended by almost a half-million people. Numbers are up again after the pandemic, and events are already booked until 2033.

Hotel Growth

Current hotel supply:

• Nashville: 255 hotels with 36,816 rooms, an increase of 11% since 2019

New properties:

• 12 with 2,095 rooms scheduled to open in 2022

Pipeline:

• 7,400 hotel rooms in the pipeline (under construction or final planning)

Restaurants

• 59 restaurants have opened or will open in 2022.
• 443 new restaurants since 2018

Source: Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.

“I think the number of non-athletic events will ultimately exceed the number of athletic-related events, whether it’s the SEC championships or other similar events or even WWE or other sports-related events,” says longtime Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn, who serves as secretary-treasurer of the Nashville Hospitality Association’s political action committee.

“We now have enough world-class hotels – and the hotel rooms as well as the world-class dining capabilities – to host guests from around the nation.”

There are 255 hotels in Nashville with a combined 36,816 rooms for guests, an increase of 11% from pre-pandemic 2019, and 443 new restaurants have opened in Nashville since 2018, including 59 this year, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. reports.

By the time a new stadium could be completed in 2026, the city could have between 45,000 and 50,000 rooms available for visitors. The NFL would require a minimum of 24,500 rooms (35% of seating capacity with a minimum seating capacity of 70,000)

“There is not an organization – if it’s the Southeastern Conference, the NFL, the NHL (or) FIFA – that has not recognized the restaurant, music, hotel, stadium package that we have that is really unrivaled in terms of convenience,” says Butch Spyridon, head of the NCVC. “So, we’re well positioned and we’re just a roof shy.”

LeClaire and Rayburn note that roof would help the city get through the “soft” periods on the calendar.

“As we continue to add hotels we have soft periods, if you will, that we want to make sure that we’re filling those hotels and providing hours for the staff who work in those properties,” LeClaire says.

“Traditionally January, February – even some of March – is sort of slower for hotels. You can’t host events, concerts, etc., in the current situation at the Titans stadium, so we do agree that this would be a game-changer for the city.”

Rayburn and LeClaire both used the canceled 2021 Garth Brooks concert as an example. After that washout, the concert was rescheduled to mid-April 2022, and he wound up playing two sold-out concerts.

“This is Music City, you know. There were (two nights in mid-April) that Garth Brooks performed to sold-out crowds at the stadium. We didn’t have to shut down either night because of weather,” Rayburn points out.

LeClaire managed a Donelson hotel at the time of the postponement and recalls, “My favorite example of this is (the) Garth Brooks concert last year. At that time, I was the general manager of the (Hilton) hotel out by the airport, and our hotel was completely sold out and many of my guests were headed downtown to the stadium for the concert,” she says. “The stadium, of course, was completely sold-out and full of people, and up blows a storm.

“That could happen in July or August just as easily. … So yeah, I really do think that that it makes a huge, huge change for us.”

District 15 Council member Jeff Syracuse says he’s excited about how the redevelopment of East Nashville, could include new hotels, restaurants and shops.

“Between the Oracle campus, a potential new Titan Stadium, the Fifth Street redux, the East Bank does have the potential for extraordinary growth and development that would positively impact Nashville’s bottom line,” he says.

“If we can figure out how to make the new Titans stadium something that is beneficial all year-round and not just during certain games and whatnot, and then it sits empty other times, that could continue to be of benefit to Nashville to host more concerts, more different kinds of events or whatnot, that that would be the positive of having an enclosed stadium. “

Scott Ramsey, president and CEO of the Music City Bowl, agrees that weather would no longer be a factor in recruiting events and concerts.

“We certainly are going to be aggressive and try to best position Nashville as we possibly can, especially if we do have a new covered facility that would take away the weather issues,” he says.

Vanderbilt professor John Koch says the growth of Nashville’s hospitality industry plus a new stadium are the key ingredients to landing a Super Bowl someday.

“Sports increase our desirability as a travel destination, as evidenced by the NFL Draft, and is why I think likely a new stadium and increased hospitality industry infrastructure, would land us a Super Bowl,” he states. “However, we would be fine psychologically without one.”

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