Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
November 19, 2021

It's Friday. Time to exhale.

🏃 Situational awareness: The St. Jude Rock 'N' Roll Marathon makes a comeback Saturday. Good luck to all the runners!

Today's newsletter is 945 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1. Reassessing Nashville's tourism brand

Lower Broadway at night, with neon honky tonk signs glowing on the traffic-stuffed streets
Photo: Adam Gray/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Ryman Hospitality chairman and CEO Colin Reed says the time is right for Nashville's hospitality industry to gameplan for its future.

  • His remarks come after an impassioned debate over party buses, the latest in a long list of tourist-focused offerings Metro has regulated, including electric scooters, golf carts, and pedal taverns.
  • Ryman is Nashville's largest hospitality company, counting the Opryland Hotel, Grand Ole Opry, and Ryman Auditorium among its assets.

Why it matters: The increasingly chaotic energy of Lower Broadway has created a sort of existential crisis for Nashville and its relationship with tourism.

What he's saying: Reed says Nashville should be proud of the growth of the tourism industry, which has added thousands of hotel rooms, created new jobs, generated millions in annual tax dollars, and built a globally recognized music brand.

Yes, but: He also acknowledges the growing pains.

  • "It's time for the industry to be reassessed and for the vision for the next 10 years to be determined," Reed tells Axios.
  • "I am going to spend, personally, more of my time preaching this message about brand modification and building plans to deal with problems we have."

What's next: Reed says he has discussed the idea with Mayor John Cooper and Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. president and CEO Butch Spyridon. The stage appears to be set for the city's tourism leaders to embark on a long-term strategic plan.

  • Cooper said through a spokesperson the city should "support institutions that are regional draws for family tourism" such as Fisk University's Jubilee Hall, the zoo, and the National Museum of African American Music.

The big picture: Spyridon tells Axios that music should remain the foundation of Nashville's tourism strategy from a marketing perspective, which also includes its growing culinary, fashion, and arts scenes.

  • "The bigger issues are growing pains from the (party) vehicles themselves, to homelessness, to trash, to safety," Spyridon says. "Those are all really important issues. Any one of them could do enormous damage to our level of business."

2. TSSAA investigates slur allegation

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is investigating an allegation that a referee used the N-word against a 14-year-old player during a girls basketball game Wednesday night at Smyrna High School.

  • The leader of Nashville charter school STEM Preparatory Academy sent a letter saying the incident was a vivid illustration of "institutional racism" embedded in athletics and the TSSAA itself.

What happened: A girls basketball game between STEM Prep and Smyrna ended abruptly after the alleged incident.

  • "Multiple students and parents witnessed" the referee use the racial slur against a STEM Prep player, according to a statement from the school.

What they're saying: STEM Prep CEO Kristin McGraner called on TSSAA to permanently suspend the referee, review its hiring practices, and institute diversity training for all employees.

  • "For our athletes to go to a school-sanctioned event and be dehumanized by an adult official is traumatizing, and our entire school community is in pain, particularly our Black and Brown students who experience systemic racism every day in this world," McGraner said in a statement.

The other side: TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress tells Axios the organization had statements from witnesses who contradicted each other.

  • At least one person said an official used the slur, others said it was another player, and others said it wasn't used at all, according to Childress. The investigation is ongoing.
  • "We are trying to get the truth," Childress says.

Meanwhile: The Daily News Journal reports TSSAA sent three letters Thursday reprimanding STEM Prep for behavior during the game.

  • One letter issued a $500 fine for the coach forfeiting the game and pulling the players off the court, and also included a $250 fine for unruly fan behavior.
  • The other letters concerned STEM Prep players ejected from the game, which a spokesperson for STEM Prep says happened during the interaction at the heart of the investigation.

The latest: Rutherford County Schools issued a statement Thursday afternoon pledging to cooperate with the investigation.

  • The district is sharing game video and making witnesses available for interviews, according to the statement.

3. The Setlist

Illustration of the windows of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, doubling as a graphic equalizer.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Shelby County district attorney dropped the fight for the death penalty in Pervis Payne's case. (The Commercial Appeal)

University of the South vice chancellor and president Reuben Brigety will be nominated as the next U.S. ambassador to South Africa. (South African Broadcasting Corporation)

The TransPerfect Music City Bowl cut ties with former Vanderbilt football player Zac Stacy after he allegedly committed domestic assault. (The Tennessean)

4. Parnassus turns 10

An exterior shot of parnassus books
Photo courtesy of Zachary Tamburin

Parnassus Books celebrated a decade in business this week.

Why it matters: The cozy, locally owned bookstore quickly became one of Nashville's gems after it opened.

What's next: There are no plans to slow down. A deluge of orders poured in this week from around the world after the store was featured in a New York Times essay.

  • "If I sound a little dazed and confused that's the reason why," co-owner Karen Hayes tells Axios. "It's a great problem to have."

What she's saying: Hayes says Parnassus will stick to the fundamentals as it enters its second decade.

  • "We just want to continue to support our community and our booksellers and our shop dogs," Hayes says.

5. Bonnaroo bounces back

Throngs of fans watching a show at Bonnaroo.
Photo: Josh Brasted/WireImage

After a two-year hiatus, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival announced Thursday it will return in 2022.

Context: Bonnaroo is one of the nation's preeminent music festivals and one of the region's biggest tourism draws, but it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and this year's event was nixed after flooding left the Farm unusable.

Nate joins Adam in mourning this incident downtown.