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In downtown Nashville, where the the 2.1 million-square-foot Music City Center anchors the hotel industry, conference guests account for a large part of hotel business.

According to Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., guests rarely spillover to nearby communities like Green Hills, located five miles south of the convention center.

“Hotels in downtown or near (Gaylord Opryland Resort) see a tremendous amount of meeting business,” Spyridon said. “But companies want to keep them close to the meeting space.”

Two years ago, as the city continued to break tourism records, Nashville experienced high demand for hotel rooms and conference guests were choosing other cities due to costly hotel rates. Rates remain high, Spyridon said, but he expects them to level out as more hotels open.

“I don’t think it will be a dramatic drop, but rates will see a normalization,” he said. “With new rooms, you’ll still see high rates, but you will also see more reasonable rates.”

So will the city be able to fill more than 3,000 downtown hotel rooms expected to open over the next three years?

According to Spyridon, there will be challenges due to Nashville reaching max capacity on meeting space.

“Right now we don’t have the meeting space to accomodate more rooms,” he said. “Basically, more hotel rooms doesn’t mean Nashville can support more conventions. You have to have the meeting space to complement the hotel space.”

The JW Marriott, expected to open this month at 201 8th Ave S near the Music City Center, features 50,000 square feet of meeting space. Hyatt Regency will open in 2020 with 70,000 square of space. However, most hotels downtown do not have enough meeting space to be self contained.

The plan to generate more guests

Without a concrete plan to create more meeting space, the city will need to explore other avenues to fill rooms. New entertainment venues like the indoor waterpark at Gaylord Opryland Resort, as well as corporate relocations and expansions, are expected to generate business. But it’s major events like the FIFA World Cup, which Nashville is on the shortlist for 2026, that Spyridon and his team are pursuing.

“With the kind of room supply we have coming soon, we're going to need to have to have a greater, better and bigger demand generator,” Spyridon said.

Nashville set a record 14.5 million visitors in 2017, a 4.6 percent increase from the city’s 13.9 million visitors in 2016. The city recently secured the 2019 NFL Draft, a feat Spyridon said will spur more high-profile events and fill more rooms.

“Right now we’re chasing the big events like the Gold Cup and the World Cup,” he said. “But we’re also pursuing additional international air service ... that’s an area where we could really grow our existing product.”

 For Spyridon, who became the convention bureau’s president in 1991, Nashville’s overall growth, as well as growth in its hotel industry, is “mind-blowing.”

“It’s inspiring and proof that if you develop a plan, plan your work and work your plan, results can and will happen, and we’re living proof.”

Dylan Skye Aycock is a Nashville-based journalist and photographer. As a reporter for Rover, Aycock follows transportation, housing and retail trends, as well as other hyperlocal and city-wide issues that affect residents in Green Hills and Belle Meade.

She previously contributed written and visual content to The Murfreesboro Pulse, American Songwriter Magazine and The Tennessean. Aycock earned a journalism degree from Middle Tennessee State University, where she honed her craft as editor-in-chief of Sidelines, the university's student-run publication. When she's not out on assignment or live-tweeting city council meetings, you can find her discovering new local spots or catching a show at one of Nashville's many music venues.

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