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Volume 21 No. 6

Facilities

Don Muret
Downtown Nashville is bustling these days. Apart from the crowds jamming Broadway’s honky-tonks and the roving pedal bars filled with rowdy bachelorette parties, the city’s inner core is teeming with commercial development, much of it connected to the city’s sports teams.

The new Bridgestone Tires headquarters, a gleaming 30-story glass structure, opens this fall as the new home for 1,700 employees, 600 positions of which are new to Nashville. It sits one block east of Bridgestone Arena, where the company holds naming rights to the home of the Nashville Predators.

The Nashville Predators envision big changes for the south entrance of Bridgestone Arena.
Courtesy of: NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Over the past decade, multiple buildings have popped up around the arena, including the Pinnacle office tower, the $120 million Symphony Hall next door, and four new hotels, including the Omni Nashville built next to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Music City Center, Nashville’s 1.2 million-square-foot convention center and the site of this year’s IAVM VenueConnect conference and trade show, opened in 2013 across the street from Bridgestone Arena’s south entrance.

Separately, in June, AEG announced plans to develop an entertainment district in downtown Nashville modeled after L.A. Live. Situated about five blocks west of the arena, the project’s 4,000-seat music venue and a movie theater complex will support new office and residential space.

Against that backdrop, the Predators, riding the momentum of a Stanley Cup Final appearance, are working with sports architect Populous on a 20-year master plan, first announced a year ago, to expand their arena’s footprint.

One piece focuses on the south end with an improved entrance, a new ticket office, restaurant and outdoor hospitality space. The south end, opposite the arena’s end along Broadway, is much more active now. It faces the convention center and the Omni, which opened in 2013 and is attached to a steakhouse, a high-end sports bar and the Hall of Fame. As a result, it makes greater sense for the Predators to make the south end more inviting for those attending arena events and those passing by, said David Kells, the team’s senior vice president of booking.

The new gateway to the facility on the south entrance
Courtesy of: NASHVILLE PREDATORS
“The rear of the arena has become valuable,” Kells said. “It used to be the back door to nothing and now it’s the secondary front door to a lot of activity and motion with people walking by the building.”

As it stands now, the Predators are determining the final scope of the master plan with an eye toward starting the initial phases over the next five years, said Sean Henry, the team’s president, CEO and alternate governor.

About a mile and a half north of downtown in the Germantown neighborhood, the same redevelopment is occurring next to First Tennessee Park, the Nashville Sounds’ ballpark that opened in 2015. It used to be a rundown part of the city with mostly low-income housing, but now it’s come alive after the Class AAA project was first announced four years ago, according to Adam Nuse, the Sounds’ general manager and chief operating officer.

Across the street from the stadium, a new apartment complex recently opened along Junior Gilliam Way, the road renamed for the former Brooklyn Dodgers infielder who grew up in town and played for the Negro Leagues’ Nashville Black Vols. It’s among multiple apartments built on the edge of downtown during the past five years.

On the opposite corner, a new beer garden and sausage house is under construction. A few blocks away, Topgolf is building a new facility as the company continues expanding in the Southeast.

Select apartments by the ballpark lease for about $1,700 a month for 700-square-foot units. That’s pricey, Nuse said, but they’re filling up with millennials moving into Germantown.

The park has interest for a beer garden.
Photo by: DON MURET
The development under construction.
Photo by: DON MURET
When the weather is nice, the Sounds get up to 3,000 people buying tickets on the day of the game, he said. Some fans wait until the ninth inning to buy $9 general admission tickets, which gives them access to the Band Box, the social gathering space in right field. It features an outdoor bar serving whiskey and Coke slushies, among other drinks, that stays open for an hour to 90 minutes after the game.

“They treat it as a cover charge,” Nuse said. “It stays open until our concessions manager thinks he’s not making enough money.”

The centerpiece of the Band Box is a nine-hole mini-golf course decorated with colorful guitars designed by local artists. The Band Box also adds a pool table, ping-pong table, cornhole and lounge furniture to the recreational theme.

Behind left field, the Sounds’ ownership group plans to build a mixed-use project with retail and residential. Chris and Tim Ward, the sons of Frank Ward, the Sounds’ owner and a New York developer, are in charge of the project. They hope to start construction before the 2018 season, Nuse said.

> OVERHEARD: USC has switched construction managers for the $270 million renovation of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. AECOM Hunt and local firm Hathaway Dinwiddie have replaced Morley Builders and PCL Construction. Joe Furin, the coliseum’s general manager, declined comment. … Tony Pereira has joined the Arizona Cardinals as vice president of stadium operations after spending 37 years with the Seattle Mariners, spanning both Safeco Field and the old Kingdome. Pereira works in tandem with SMG, the third-party operator for University of Phoenix Stadium. … New soccer stadium developments in Europe are exploring Wi-Fi-free zones. Premier League officials are “obsessed with atmosphere” and feel that fans glued to their smartphones at matches are a deterrent for home-field advantage, said Matthew Birchall, a partner and global sports sector director for Buro Happold, an engineering firm. Birchall is consulting for multiple Premier League teams about turning off Wi-Fi or restricting its access in some areas. … LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., played a critical role during last fall’s wildfires that killed 14 people and destroyed 2,400 structures in nearby Gatlinburg. The event center took in more than 400 people, 13 dogs, four cats and 31 bald eagles displaced by the fires, said Phil Campbell, the facility manager. The eagles are part of the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood theme park. Elaine Duke, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, mentioned LeConte Center’s efforts during her IAVM keynote address.


Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

The Nashville Predators are building their first two bunker suites at Bridgestone Arena, part of a quick turnaround in facility upgrades following their deep postseason run.

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The Predators, capitalizing on their first Stanley Cup Final appearance, identified event-level space in the arena’s north end that could be redeveloped into high-end hospitality space. The new bunkers, which are tucked underneath the stands and include seats in the first few rows of the lower bowl, replace former storage and pantry areas.

The team sold each bunker suite for $700,000 a year, tied to seven-year terms. The all-inclusive package covers 20 tickets for most events plus food and drink, including beer, wine and hard liquor. Private servers and preferred parking on the loading dock are other amenities.

The suites include food and drink and lower-bowl seats.
Courtesy of: NASHVILLE PREDATORS
The first few potential buyers pitched on the new inventory quickly snapped up both bunkers.

“We had four meetings and sold them both that day without a rendering,” said Sean Henry, the Predators’ chief executive officer, president and alternate governor.

The team invested about $800,000 for the project, designed by Populous, the building’s original architect. The plumbing was already in place for both bunkers, which helped reduce project costs slightly, Henry said.

The bunker suites come online after the Predators formed a group hospitality space mid-level in the arena during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. At that time, the team combined two suites into one larger room supporting 85 seats and sold season-ticket plans for three- and five-year contracts.

Despite the lockout, the group space sold out, resulting in the Predators taking a closer look at other areas for premium retrofits.

“You drink a lot of Pepto when you launch a concept like this, but it worked really well and that’s what gave us the confidence to build these bunkers,” Henry said.

Apart from the event-level retrofit, the Predators are making some dramatic changes to parts of the upper deck, tearing down walls separating the seating bowl from the concourse and installing new bars, grab-and-go concessions, and drink rails with views to the game.

During initial construction, team officials discovered empty space overhead after removing one section of ceiling, resulting in a last-minute plan to install a “sky bar” style deck for fans sitting at the highest level.

“We didn’t know we were doing that until a few weeks ago,” he said. “It’s one of the coolest things we’re doing and it was by accident … we didn’t realize how unencumbered it was.”

All told, the Predators have spent about $80 million on facility improvements since 2010, the year massive flooding hit Nashville and left 3 feet of water at event level inside the arena.

Next year, the team plans to renovate its practice facility, situated about 3 miles from the arena near Vanderbilt University, at a cost between $6 million and $7 million.

Last week, construction started on upgrading the Predators’ locker room. Henry said the team plans to package naming rights to the locker room with the practice facility and a large backstage space used for rehearsal by some of the city’s biggest country music acts.