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High water: nothing salvageable at convention hall

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Photos taken from within the hall pretty much confirm that all the exhibits being installed for the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association show were destroyed.
Photo by John Williams

No official statement has been released on the fate of the 350 exhibits in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. when it was swamped by the Cumberland River the first weekend in May. However, eyewitness accounts and photos taken within the hall confirm all is lost. The exhibits were in the process of being installed for the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Show scheduled for May 3-7.


Fortunately, no one at the resort was hurt when the Cumberland River breeched the city’s levees resulting in massive flooding across many parts of the Tennessee state capital. Nashville’s municipal convention center was not impacted by the floodwaters and is open for business. The Gaylord Opryland has about 600,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, the largest such facility in Nashville. The Nashville Convention Center has 118,675 square feet of exhibit space.

During a recent press conference, Colin Reed, CEO and chairman of the Gaylord Opryland, said that it could be three to six months before the resort can open its doors to guests. There was no mention as to when the convention center might open for business. It is estimated that the damage to the resort is “well over $1 billion” and well over the $50 million the hotel has in flood insurance.

Rick Broyles, Tennessee/Kentucky operations manager for Coastal International, an installation and dismantle service firm, said indeed all is lost in the convention center. He also heard it could be December before the resort reopens. Broyles provided Exhibit City News with a statement he received from management of AFCEA following the flooding.

“We have confirmed that all materials inside the exhibit hall at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel are under water,” the AFCEA Show statement said. “The damage is extensive and it is doubtful that any of the equipment and/or exhibit properties will be salvageable. We encourage all exhibitors to notify their insurance companies about the situation and to begin an analysis of any losses associated with this storm.”

Bev Gray, president and CEO for Exhibit Edge Inc, said she had three clients who lost exhibits in the flooding, one exhibit valued at about $2 million. One of her clients was allowed into the hall about two weeks after the initial flooding to see what could be salvaged.
“All they bothered collecting was one small piece of equipment,” Gray said on May 19. “Everything else was lost with mud and gook in every nook and cranny.”

Photos provided by John Williams, owner of NashvilleDispatch Photo, tell the story better than any official statement. Indeed, mud and gook, tumbled and trashed exhibit components everywhere.

Nashville Convention Center Unscathed
Located in the downtown district, the Nashville Convention Center suffered no flood damage, but just barely escaped the water. According to Broyles, the flooding crept up to Fourth Street and the convention center is located between Fifth and Sixth streets and Commerce Boulevard.

“We are open for business,” said Charles Stark, executive director of the municipal convention center. “The downtown is going like gangbusters and there is plenty for visitors to do downtown.”

Flooding could displace exhibit industry workers
While things may be OK for the municipal convention center, Broyles said the situation looks bleak for exhibit industry workers who depend on the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center facilities for their livelihood. Prior to the flood, the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center hosted about a quarter of Nashville’s conferences, meetings and tradeshows.

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Exhibit Edge Inc. had three clients who lost exhibits in the flooding, one exhibit was valued at about $2 million.
Photo by John Williams

Working on behalf of MC2, Broyles and his Coastal International crew were setting up three exhibits in the convention center when the floodwaters began cascading over the levees. They were not in the hall when the waters began seeping into the convention center which is located on the resort’s basement level.

“We lost equipment, tools and a gang box,” Broyles said. “Everything on the show floor is trashed. “We heard that it could be December before they reopen the convention center.”

Kay Witt, senior vice president of sales for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that about 200 events were scheduled to take place at the Gaylord Opryland through September. Those events have been released and are looking for a new home. The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Gaylord Opryland management teams are assisting event organizers with rebooking events at other Nashville venues, but it is questionable as most venues are already booked for the summer.

“Some of the events cancelled outright because it was too close to make other arrangements,” Kit said. “Some of the events have moved to a different date, some are being moved to the resort’s sister properties, and some events in September and beyond that are taking a ‘wait and see attitude’.”

“Currently we do most of our shows at Opryland,” Broyles said. “We have lost at least four to six months of work. Our bread and butter are gone. The ripple effect is going to be huge if they can’t find a way to reroute some of the Gaylord Opryland conferences and conventions to the downtown (Nashville) convention center.”

Exhibitors and other service providers that may have lost an exhibit property, tools or equipment in the convention center flooding, and may need photos for insurance purposes, can visit the NashvilleDispatch Photoonline at www.NashvilleDispatchPhoto.com or visit the web info@nashvilledispatchphoto.com, or call John at (615) 429-8200.

Aleta Walther is a marketing communications professional and freelance writer with several years experience as a corporate exhibit manager. Contact Aleta at: Aleta@prwriterpro.com.

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