Nate Rau Nashville Tennessean
Published 6:47 AM EDT Oct 11, 2018
Ryman Hospitality has completed a $12 million expansion of the Grand Ole Opry, just in time for shows this weekend to celebrate the country music institution’s 93rd birthday.
The expansion is highlighted by a new ticketing and retail area, which is more than twice the size of the previous space. The company also added about 1,100 paid parking spaces for Opry performances with a wooden walkway connecting the parking lot to the performance venue.
Ryman Hospitality plans to pump more money into the Opry House, by adding a new interactive tour and meet-and-greet lounge where the old retail shop stood. Once those additions are complete, the total project price tag will reach $20 million, a Ryman spokeswoman said.
The investment comes on the heels of similar renovation and expansion projects by the company at the Ryman Auditorium and the Wildhorse Saloon. Earlier this year, Ryman opened the Blake Shelton-themed honky tonk Ole Red on lower Broadway.
Ryman Hospitality Chairman and CEO Colin Reed said the company remains bullish on the country music industry and the future of tourism in Nashville.
“I know this is going to sound self-serving, but there probably isn’t another company that has as much invested in the entertainment industry in this town as we do,” Reed said. “It’s predicated on our belief that music is going to continue to spread all over the planet with technology channels that are available, things like Spotify and other digital channels that are emerging.
“As a consequence of that the city of Nashville is going to, I think, continue to be put in front of millions of new consumers over the years to come. You can’t replicate what we have in this town with the music infrastructure we have here.”
Reed said the company’s enthusiasm for investing in the entertainment industry is not wavering despite the recent decision to close the Opry City Stage restaurant, venue and retail shop in New York’s Times Square.
That venue closed less than one year after opening, but unlike other new Ryman Hospitality music venues, Opry City Stage had a unique structure. The company partnered with a New York firm for a joint venture on Opry City Stage.
The goal was to provide a slice of Nashville entertainment in New York, and also to attract tourists to Ryman’s many country music offerings here. But, operating in the thick of the expensive and highly competitive Times Square entertainment district, Opry City Stage never took off, even after Ryman took full control of the venue this summer.
Reed described the closure of Opry City Stage as more of a one-off issue specific to New York than a setback that will alter the company’s strategy. In the last year alone, Ryman has opened or unveiled plans to open Ole Red venues in Nashville, Oklahoma, Gatlinburg and Orlando.
“These two things are completely and utterly different,” Reed said of the Opry renovation and the Opry City Stage closure. “We opened that thing in January, and we opened Ole Red here in May. The two things couldn’t have been any more opposite.
“Ole Red in downtown Nashville has been materially outperforming what we anticipated happening, and it continues to do very, very well.”
Reed said the experience for Opry fans will be “materially improved” with the new offerings, which will be available for shows beginning this weekend.
The new parking area, which is located between the Opry House and the resort and hotel, was built in response to fan feedback. Traffic in and out can be grueling if it coincides with a popular movie release at the next-door movie theater, or during the holidays when visitors flock to Opryland to see the light display.
“We know that parking is always a challenge for our guests, because the mall gets so crowded,” said Barb Schaetz, director of business development for Opry Entertainment Group. “Whenever you have a sellout movie premiere and you have Carrie Underwood, for example, on the show, you end up with people being late to the show because they can’t find a parking space.
“Or they find a parking space, but it’s so far away that they’re out of breath and don’t really enjoy their experience. Our parking lot is $10 for show nights, and we hope people will find it convenient. We had this space and we hadn’t done anything with it, so it seemed only natural to do something that will enhance the experience for our guests.”
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Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @tnnaterau.
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