A giant spaceship has landed in Nashville and finally opened its doors this week. And it’s breathtaking in its immensity and breadth and most of all in its promise. Nashville’s new Music City Center may as well be called Starship Nashville or even Starship Music City for its grandeur and unlimited potential.
Mere words cannot convey the sheer impact of this building. You need to walk it yourself to grasp the scale of the beast, with its endless rooms and hallways and green roof and enormous new traffic roundabout. You can also drive through it since it now incorporates Sixth Avenue as part of the complex.
Downtown Nashville has been dramatically redone and redesigned in a relatively few years. After former Mayor Phil Bredesen lured the Houston Oilers to town to become the Tennessee Titans and built a stadium for them on the banks of the Cumberland River, others explored the redevelopment of downtown. The Hilton Suites hotel joined the now-named Bridgestone Arena in transforming a large swath of the Broadway area into an upscale draw. The adjacent Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum had earlier replaced a down-and-out part of downtown and has been joined by the majestic Schemerhorn Symphony Center. And soon a new Omni Hotel will abut the Hall of Fame. The overall transformation of downtown Nashville is becoming dramatic.
Other parts of Nashville’s musical past — the ones too small to be institutionalized — continue to disappear. Hewgley’s Music Shop is long gone from downtown, although you can still see the fading Hewgley’s letters painted on a parking lot building on Commerce Street. Hewgley’s moved to Columbia, Tenn.
Remember that the venerable Ryman auditorium — then sitting vacant and decaying in downtown Nashville — came very close to being demolished until Emmylou Harris got it to be opened back up so she could record a live album there? I’ll never forget what King of Country Music Roy Acuff said to me when I asked him about the Ryman. “That old building? I’ll be the first one to knock the first bricks out of there.” Harris’ live album ultimately led to the Ryman being saved and updated and preserved as one of the premier music halls in the world.
Just across from the Ryman, Lower Broadway itself is flourishing but is turning into a flashy neon caricature of itself. I can remember when you avoided that area because of muggers, drug dealers and hookers. Now you avoid it because it’s turned into a country amusement park for tourists. It’s got everything but cowbells.
George Gruhn has for 43 years run the highly respected Gruhn Guitars on Lower Broad, and now he’s moving. He wants to get away from the constant loud carnival atmosphere and the steady flow of tourists into his store — who do not buy his high-end instruments and only want to be looky-lous. Gruhn will move his shop to a location on Eighth Avenue South — a little less than three miles from downtown.
Conventions are great. They are a city’s lifeblood. God bless them. Just keep them away from me.
I have been to local music conventions at the Opryland Hotel, at various hotels and at the still-functioning Nashville Convention Center down on Commerce. None of the venues were big enough or really appealing enough to truly entice a convention-goer to come back. It’s sometimes just such a simple thing as the fact that in the hallways of NCC, I could not find a place to sit except on the floor. Or it was Opryland Hotel’s ever-escalating parking fees and three-hour waits or longer for room service.
As others have already observed, there will never again be free parking here, at least not in downtown Nashville. But do you really want free parking to go to a grungy, very shaky bar band joint, or do you want to pay a still fairly modest parking fee to see good bands and singers and to know that your car has probably not been broken into? And it wouldn’t be bad to see some favorite musicians perform in the new 6,000-seat grand ballroom of the new Music City Center.
When the suggestion for a gigantic new convention center was brought up a few years ago, it faced opposition for the cost and sheer size of such a structure spanning six city blocks. But now it’s a reality. And the naysayers are now turning into cheerleaders. The city has developed a master plan for further developing the SoBro neighborhood, including possible expansion of the MCC.
By day, the building is simply imposing. At night, the MCC is utterly breathtaking. The structure becomes a glittering, illuminated giant jewel box. Well done, Mayor Karl Dean and the city of Nashville.
This NASHVILLE SKYLINE column first appeared on CMT.com. Chet Flippo is Editorial Director for CMT/CMT.com.