Nashville’s culture — past and present — is deeply felt at Music City Center, which celebrated its grand opening on May 19-20. The curving roofline and rounded mahogany-brown façade of the 1.2-million-square-foot-center recall the warm wood of the fiddles and guitars that helped establish nearby Music Row and the Grand Ole Opry, and the sleek design is a reminder of why Condé Nast Traveler named the “new Nashville” to its list of the top five cities to visit in 2013. (In addition to music, the city’s food and fashion scenes are flourishing.)
The city may be having a moment — The New York Times dubbed Nashville the newest “It” city in the United States last January — but it’s no flash in the pan, according to Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Nashville got where it is “by remembering who we are — and having an authentic product,” Spyridon said during a press trip celebrating Music City Center’s opening.
The first invited guests to the center were the residents of Nashville themselves. A crowd of approximately 15,000 came to an open house on Sunday, May 19, where a full-sized zipline both entertained guests and illustrated the capacity of the eight-acre, 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall. Even alongside rock-climbing, bungee-jumping, multiple food stations, and other entertainment, there was plenty of spare room. A semi truck used by country singer Toby Keith while touring, parked at one end of the hall, “looked like a toy,” noted Holly McCall, Music City Center’s director of marketing and public relations.
Open-house guests were treated to celebratory slices of red-velvet and carrot cake and Southern favorites such as mac-and-cheese, chili, and grilled-cheese sandwiches, and to performers positioned throughout the center. There was gospel, opera, and — of course — country music, and the Grammy-nominated Nashville Symphony gave the inaugural performance in the 57,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom. The ballroom’s ceiling made it hard not to keep looking upward — it’s designed to make guests feel as if they’re sitting inside an acoustic guitar.
A highlight of the press tour was a visit atop the center’s four-acre green roof, which is designed not just to insulate the building, but to slow rainwater runoff so it can be captured and used for irrigation. The roof is only one of many environmentally friendly features designed into the building — managers are seeking LEED Silver certification.
Music City Center draws inspiration from the city around it, but also draws visitors out into the city. Soaring windows and numerous terraces provide views of Nashville’s skyline and the surrounding South of Broadway (SOBRO) neighborhood, and fill the interior with natural light. A street-level plaza, between the center and the adjacent Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the under-construction Omni Nashville Hotel, was the site for a grand-opening concert on May 21, which featured locals including Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow.
The visit also included a hard-hat tour of the 800-room Omni, which will open in October and will be connected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where an expansion now under way will more than double the size of the facility and add a new 800-seat theater in the round.
Press-tour guests stayed at the boutique-style Hutton Hotel, with 247 rooms and 52 suites, and the 340-room Loews Vanderbilt Hotel Nashville — two luxe star properties from the city’s inventory of 25,000 hotel rooms.
Not everyone supported the plan to build the $585-million Music City Center, Spyridon said. But the CVB set a self-imposed goal of booking a million room nights in conjunction with the new center, and on the morning that the ribbon was cut, Spyridon offered a progress report: They had booked 1,062,787 room nights and 123 meetings. “That,” he said, “should silence the critics.”