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Nashville Tunes Up For Business And Pleasure

Apr 1, 2013
2013 / April 2013

Nashville has long been an iconic American city, earning its “Music City” nickname from the long rise of country music and becoming a major recording and industry hub for many genres. From Roy Acuff and Patsy Cline to Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift, pretty much every country music star recorded here, but so have the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis, Robert Plant, REM, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones.

With the ABC network television drama series Nashville throwing a spotlight on the destination in prime time, awareness is high for this dynamic, mid-sized city. It hosted around 11 million visitors in 2012 — more than a lot of countries — and that number should rise with all the new business developments happening this year.

Lately, this Tennessee city has become a hub for its cuisine as well. In-the-know visitors have always raved about the hot chicken, meat-and-three Southern dinners and barbecue. Now Nashville finds itself in the culinary spotlight, called out as a center of “haute Southern” cuisine based on local farm ingredients and revamped versions of traditional recipes. The “Buckle of the Bible Belt” is now also the buckle of a foodie belt stretching to Charleston.

Fittingly, perhaps, the new restaurant with the biggest advance buzz is Husk Nashville, from James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock of Charleston. Housed in an 1895 building on the National Registry of Historic Homes, it will overlook downtown when it opens this month.

Construction concludes in May on the new Music City Center, a complex comprising a $585 million convention center and several hotels opening in stages. With a 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a 57,000-square-foot grand ballroom, it’s big enough to host all but the largest 25 percent of U.S. conventions. It’s a building for the future, on track to be certified Silver Level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building Council. Run-off water is stored to flush toilets and irrigate landscaping, plus the roof will host an acre of solar panels over the ballroom and surrounding plants to absorb heat. The convention center will also be home to the street-facing Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

This is not your usual bleak convention box located in an inconvenient area on the edge of town. It’s right in the center of Nashville, next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and blocks from an NHL hockey arena, Riverfront Park and the famous honky-tonk live music district of Lower Broadway. Without getting in a car, anyone staying downtown can walk to the Ryman Auditorium — home of the original Grand Ole Opry — or go upscale with a concert at the symphony hall. You can eat well nearby, too, whether that’s pulled pork and a longneck beer at Jack’s Bar-B-Que or moulard duck and truffle mac and cheese at Capitol Grille in the historic Hermitage Hotel.

In contrast to many convention centers, it’s also designed to be welcoming when no meetings are scheduled. A wide green pavilion circles the building, inviting foot traffic and serving as public space for art and music.

Compact downtown Nashville currently has a variety of chain and independent hotels already, but more are on the way to handle the additional influx. The showpiece will be the 800-room Omni Nashville Hotel, scheduled to open in October, joining existing brands in walking distance like Doubletree, Hilton Suites, Renaissance, Sheraton and a recently expanded Hotel Indigo.

In addition to the new relocated songwriters museum, two new museums are opening downtown this spring: The Johnny Cash Museum on Third Avenue South and the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum on Fourth Avenue. The latter is housed in what was Municipal Auditorium, home to five decades of concerts, and is divided according to cities that were home to a critical mass of musicians, such as Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans and, of course, Nashville.

A detail of the Parthenon replica in Centennial Park © Patricia Shrout | Dreamstime.com

A detail of the Parthenon replica in Centennial Park © Patricia Shrout |

If the walking gets to be too much, or you want to see a bit more of the city, catch a ride on the Music City Trolley Hop to visit 11 locations around town, or grab a taxi for a short ride: Most attractions are located within a few miles of the city center. Head up West End Avenue to Centennial Park to see a full-scale replica of the Parthenon and a statue of Athena. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is housed in a gorgeous Art Deco building that was once a post office. Cross the Cumberland River to the Five Points area of East Nashville, a couple of miles from downtown, to see where the local creative class dines and drinks among Craftsman bungalows from a century ago.

The Nashville metropolitan statistical area is now the largest by population in Tennessee, much of the growth coming from jobs in industries less flashy than tourism and music. This is a major center for the health care industry, with HCA headquartered here, and many prominent smaller corporations housed in the office park suburb of Brentwood. Vanderbilt University, not far from downtown, is actually the largest local employer.

The Nashville region is home to plenty of well-known brand names, serving as the U.S. headquarters of Nissan, Bridgestone, Cracker Barrel, Gibson Guitars, Gaylord Entertainment, Dollar General and a whole series of restaurant chains.

There are few mid-sized cities in the United States offering such a strong mix of business opportunity by day and such a wide range of entertainment choices to explore when the sun goes down. Day on or day off, ease into the local pace and take time to hear a good song or two from someone who might just be tomorrow’s big star. Music City makes it worthwhile to stick around for a while.


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