Opryland -- and Nashville along with it -- is back, and in a big way.
When flook waters ripped through the streets of downtown Nashville in early May, residents and business owners alike were floored. Never in recorded history had Nashville seen an inundation like this; a friend from the CVB today told me that it was a "500 year flood" -- the kind of event that takes place only twice a millenium.
The flood destroyed numerous homes, ruined the ground floor of the sparkling new Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and devestated the Gaylord Opryland Resort, a Nashville landmark that is one of the most iconic hotels in the country. Reports from that day say that there were up to eight feet of standing water in the hotel's garden atriums. Observers recall seeing armchairs and other lobby furniture floating in the middle of the building.
Now six months and $200 million later, the Opryland is in the middle of a grand reopening... and in this case, it is grand indeed. I arrived today to a sparkling new hotel, with completely redesigned public areas, re-imagined restaurants, re-cultivated indoor landscapes and a completely re-invigorated staff. From the valets to the front desk managers, banquet servers, sales staff and even the folks stationed throughout the complex to help visitors find their way around, there is a palpable sense of excitement and pride.
The hotel opened to its first guest Monday, and will celebrate its official grand opening tomorrow night. But the party started tonight, with the lighting ceremony that kicks of A Country Christmas, the 27th annual instalment of the Opryland's signature holiday festival. To say that the ceremony was a spectacle would be an understatement: This outdoor show featured a live band, a full lineup of Rockettes, a performance by Louise Mandrell and a rousing fireworks finale. The event also included the illumination of the resort's brand-new Christmas lights.
"In July, we had to buy 2 million new lights, because our old ones had a little bit of water damage," joked general manager Peter Weien.
The illumination was attended by dignitaries, journalists, and hundreds of Nashville locals. For Nashvillians, and for all of us who treasure the tourism industry, it was a dual celebration: Christmas is coming, and Music City is back in business.