Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2011
Iconic Gaylord Opryland Resort Reopens After Devastating May Flood
By: Edith Billups

$270 Million Renovation Restores Flagship Resort to Even More Grandeur

On November 19th, following his speech to those attending a spectacular grand reopening celebration of the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN, CEO Colin Reed beamed as guests applauded the herculean feat that his staff had accomplished in a mere 195 days.  Everything about the newly reopened Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center has been improved after a record-breaking flood left much of Nashville, TN underwater. Rather than a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gaylord Entertainment chose to reopen its signature resort with an awe-inspiring display of modern dancers on wires hung from the ceiling, a gospel choir, a full orchestra, and a spectacular array of pyrotechnics throughout the massive Delta Atrium.

Hotel guests and other invited dignitaries filled every seat, crowded the walkways, and leaned over banisters on the second and third floors to get a view of the impressive entertainment below. Noting that, “It’s still difficult to describe the emotions I felt at sunrise on May third, when the first light revealed the water completely surrounding and breaching this magnificent hotel. But despite the devastation we witnessed, I never had any doubt that our company, with the support of our STARS and our community, would prove ourselves to be equal to this challenge," said Reed. The historic Nashville flood took place during the first two days of May when 13 inches of rain rapidly fell, causing The Cumberland River to reach nearly 12 ft. above flood stage. The flood displaced thousands of residents and closed hundreds of businesses, including the Grand Old Opry, The Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the 2,881-room Gaylord Opryland Resort that incurred extensive damage at a cost of more than $270 million.

The largest non-gaming in-hotel facility located in the continental United States, Gaylord Opryland boasts more than 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting, convention and exhibit space and is known for providing superior products and service to the meeting and convention industry. And with nearly 3,600 STARS (hotel employees), the resort provides one-fourth of the county’s revenues from hotel rooms. When the largest flood to impact the city of Nashville in years occurred, the hotel’s closing would have a major impact on the city.

According to Pete Wein, the resort’s senior vice president and general manager, “On Saturday, we had begun to see some power outages, but on the second day, we started to see flooding in the hotel, so we decided to stop checking people in, When we saw the levee’s waters were about to crest, we made the decision to start powering down and move our 1,500 guests. We used 16 motor coaches to move our guests to a nearby high school. Later, nearly 500 local residents also came.”

On May 3rd, Wein returned to the hotel at 5 a.m. “and was completely taken aback by the water that had gotten in. It ripped my heart out to see nine feet of water in some places in the hotel, with chairs floating by. It was a sobering experience not knowing what the future held for the property. Still, although parts of our famous atriums were under water because of the surrounding levees being breached, not one single person got injured or even got their feet wet,” said the executive. Under Wein’s leadership, Gaylord staff moved quickly to assess the damage, bringing in 30-40 generators to force in conditioned air to keep the humidity down. Staff also went into the resort’s tunnel system to begin pumping out water, mixed with mud and diesel fuel, at 16.500 gallons per minute. In 3 days, 71,280,000 gallons of water were pumped out.

The company also brought in 61 contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, including eight industrial hygienists. “There was a lot of contamination, and everything had to be cleaned,” said Wein. At the height of reconstruction, 1,300 people were working on the site each day.  “We kept 1,000 of our employees working over the course of the summer,” said Wein, “although we had to lay off 1,800 of our STARS. Still, we paid them for 8 weeks, along with vacation time, and 83% of those we laid off have returned. It shows how much people value the Gaylord experience.” To kick off its grand re-opening, the company invited more than 1,000 meeting planners, political leaders, media representatives and travel representatives to participate in the three day celebration that began with a Christmas Lighting Ceremony on Thursday that launched the resort’s popular Country Christmas attractions.

Hundreds of guests gathered in the resort’s Magnolia Circle to enjoy music by country star Louise Mandrell, backed by a gospel choir, as well as a mini-performance by the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. The much anticipated perennial holiday event included two million Christmas lights, an 18,000-sq. ft. virtual city of sculpted ice called ICE!, performances at the Grand Ole Opry, and more.
In keeping with its policy of giving back to the community, the resort hosted a community benefit concert that evening, featuring country star Trace Adkins with special guest Craig Morgan. Noting that he had never been so proud to be a part of a community, Adkins lauded the Gaylord staff and the community of Nashville for banding together during the disaster. Proceeds from ticket sales were being contributed directly to the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Hands On Nashville, non-profit organizations instrumental in the clean up and restoration of Nashville neighborhoods after the flood.

Other performers participating in the gala weekend included country superstar and CMA Award winner Keith Urban, who lost several valuable guitars in the flood, and Grammy Award winner Sheryl Crow. “I lost a couple of chickens, but I have several friends who lost everything in the flood,” said Crow. “I’m glad to see Opryland come back.” For Gaylord Opryland regulars, the extensive construction and renovations include numerous enhancements throughout the property, particularly in areas where the water rose more than 10 ft. in the hotel. The 115 lower-level Delta guest rooms were destroyed, and “Those guestrooms were torn down to the studs and completely refurbished,” said Wein. Guests also will find all-new restaurants and bars in both the Cascades and Garden Conservatory areas of the hotel.

The Falls Bar replaces the rotating Cascades Bar and provides an elegant space to enjoy cocktails and take in stunning views of the twin waterfalls in the Cascades Atrium. The Garden Conservatory also is now home to three new dining ventures: Solario for authentic Mexican fare; Ravello for Southern Italian cuisine; and The Conservatory Bar which serves both new restaurants and features an Enomatic wine system. Other renovations include an impressive redesign of The Cascades lobby, aimed at creating a more streamlined arrival and check in experience. If visiting, be sure to check out the stunning hand-blown sculpture, “Resurgence,” by Hungarian artist Ludek Hroch.

For many locals attending the reopening, the comeback of the Gaylord Opryland was symbolic of a rebirthing. “It is proof that we can rise above adversity like the waters rose,” said Sami Cone, host of a local television show. “I never saw such selflessness as I saw here as a community. The flood knew no station and equalized everywhere.” Cone said the Gaylord is an icon in the community. “For the locals, it means so much to have this hotel here. You can just come and enjoy the lights or stop by and read a book in one of the gardens. You can come and have dinner or just hang out. You don’t have to come and check in.” If visiting, be sure to check out the resort’s Relache Spa, which provides a variety of services, ranging from wraps and massages to facials and pedicures. You cam also enjoy shopping in one of numerous boutiques and shops on the nine-acre property or taking a tour of local celebrity homes. Minutes away also are the County Music Hall of Fame and Ryman Auditorium, home of the original Grand ole Opry.

For Reed, “The road to recovery “certainly hasn’t been an easy one, but simply put, the speed and care with which our STARS and the entire Gaylord team responded was extraordinary.
“For many years, this hotel has been run and managed by some of the most passionate and caring individuals I have ever come across — from the folks cleaning the rooms, to those checking in guests, to the leaders making sure everything is working just right. “This is good for business, and I am convinced more people will come to Nashville as a consequence of the way our city and our company converted a disaster into an opportunity."

For more information on the resort visit