Nashville’s Music City Center convention facility and Omni Downtown Nashville Hotel opened last year with an open plaza separating them for private Nashville meetings outdoors. Together, they illustrate the future of convention center campuses integrating hospitality and entertainment into the overall experience. They also show the potential positive impact of convention business on a city’s economic development master plan.
“We`ve had a renaissance in our convention package downtown, which is giving us a lot of additional exposure nationally,” says Kay Witt, chief sales officer for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation (NCVC). “Once Music City Center and the Omni Hotel happened, then suddenly there was new residential, more hotels and new restaurants, and the whole vibrancy has enhanced what we already had in terms of our entertainment district.”
She explains that almost 5,000 new residences have been built downtown in the last eight years, which delivers a strong local energy to the urban core. That provides a much more immersive Nashville meetings experience for visiting delegates who want to network outside the convention center.
“There’s a lot of cities that shut down at night, we’re the opposite of that,” asserts Witt. She explains that the entertainment district is called “SoBro” (South of Broadway), and it’s evolved into a much more diverse cross section of venues for all ages. “I’m a Baby Boomer and I’ve got some discretionary income and what I’m looking for is an experience. Something kind of different. I don’t want anything too cookie cutter, so I love SoBro, and you can get in and out super easily.”
Delegates and planners are also asking the NCVC for the ability to network with a wider variety of local business leaders and cultural influencers than in the past. Groups want more interdisciplinary programming relevant to both their own industry, as well as overarching themes relating to professional development, innovation and creativity.
“We just hosted CEOs for Cities, and they could have come in and discussed some boring things, but they reached out to us, they reached out to the chamber, they reached out to all the major corporations to get some additional engagement,” says Witt. “I feel like people are asking a lot of different businesses how to be successful, what are they doing to attract employees, and that sort of thing. So I do think conventions are engaging other organizations than those that just come immediately to mind.”
Additionally, the downtown Nashville Entrepreneur Center is a startup incubator that also provides professional advice and support services for local artists. Today, the “EC” is actively partnering with the bureau to provide artists for convention events, both on- and offsite.
Witt says that’s something new in Nashville. The community is more and more supporting artists other than musicians to bring more diversity to the downtown environment.
“I think we’ve finally gotten past the idea that we’re just about country music,” she tells us. “Music is definitely our brand but I think we’re now bringing a whole lot more to the experience, and it’s paying off. It’s definitely driving new business, you can hardly get a room downtown on the weekends.”