Ryman has a history of pleading for government handouts

Ryman has a history of pleading for government handouts

Bureau Chief’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series about tax incentives Ryman Entertainment may get to build a waterpark in Nashville.

Ryman Hospitality officials want $14 million in tax incentives to build a waterpark in Nashville, and it’s not the first time they’ve reached out for corporate welfare.

As reported, Nashville Metro Council members are scheduled to vote on the incentive package so Ryman can build Soundwaves at the Gaylord Hotel. The company’s CEO reportedly calls this “a waterpark on steroids.”

Company officials also have held out their hands for the second, third, fourth, and fifth seasons of the fictionalized television drama “Nashville.” The show began on ABC, but that network canceled it. It now airs on cable outlet CMT.

Opry Entertainment, a division of Ryman Hospitality, created the show.

Council member Jim Shulman says if his colleagues cave on Ryman’s newest request then there’s no telling what officials from that corporation would ask for next.

“When is this going to stop?” Shulman asked Tennessee Watchdog in an email.

RELATED — Luxury waterpark might get thrown government favoritism; Nashville taxpayers might get thrown underwater

No one in Mayor Megan Barry’s office returned a request for comment, nor did any of the other 39 council members.

Ryman spokeswoman Shannon Sullivan didn’t answer questions about all of the welfare her corporation received previously. She declined to answer when or if Ryman officials would stop asking for handouts.

Soap opera

State officials have thus far given “Nashville” $30 million to film on location for authenticity’s sake. But the show is mostly filmed on an indoor set.

Metro officials didn’t start contributing taxpayer money until the show’s second season in 2012. At the time, council members gave half a million dollars to the show, without debate.

During that 2012 meeting, star-struck council members bragged about seeing “Nashville” star Connie Britton around town. Metro officials said it was the first time they gave taxpayer money to a film or television production.

State and local officials have long said the show presents a unique marketing opportunity to lure tourists to the city and the surrounding areas of Middle Tennessee.

Later on, producers threatened to film “Nashville” in Georgia or Texas if they didn’t get more taxpayer money. Council members have since given the show an additional $2 million.


As for Soundwaves, Shulman says it’s unfair Ryman Entertainment could get $14 million in tax incentives to build the waterpark while many city residents prepare for higher property taxes, a nearly 35 percent increase.

As reported, Sullivan referred to a study written by William Fox at the University of Tennessee’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.

The study estimates SoundWaves, if built, would generate 1,287 full-time temporary jobs, $185 million in economic impact and a one-time increase of $8.4 million in state and local taxes during its planned 20-month construction phase.

RELATED — Proposed waterpark might soak Nashville in more debt

The park would reportedly take up 217,000 square feet.

The study makes many assumptions and guesses about how this would play out. As of Monday, no one at the Boyd Center had returned a request for comment about the methodology used to generate conclusions and how much faith researchers have in their reasoning.

If the package goes through Tuesday, WSMV reported, Ryman will donate two parcels to create public boat access to the nearby Cumberland River.

As reported, all of this is happening even though the city already has a popular, privately run waterpark — Nashville Shores.

Assuming the proposed incentive package passes, Nashville Shores will compete with Soundwaves for customers. No one at Nashville Shores has returned repeated requests for comment.

Ryman officials won’t make Soundwaves available to everyone. To use the park, customers must rent a room at the Gaylord.

The Tennessean reports the deal would keep Opryland’s property tax payments flat through 2015 after this year’s reappraisal. Nashville plans to forfeit $1.63 million in annual property taxes the city would have collected from the waterpark.

The paper says Ryman officials will spend $90 million of their own money on the project and that, as part of the deal, company officials must build the park before September 2019.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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