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Opryland

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Opryland USA was a theme park located in Nashville, Tennessee. It operated from 1972 until 1997. Billed as the "Home of American Music," it featured a large number of musical shows along with the typical rides such as roller coasters, carousels, and the like. It was opened by the former National Life and Accident Insurance Company, a Nashville insurer best-known for operating WSM-AM-FM-TV and the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry itself moved to an adjacent site, the New Grand Ole Opry House, in 1974. (However, music at the park was not limited to country music; there were jazz and pop-themed shows as well. A large, resort-style hotel was also built, and the Opryland Hotel is now the largest non-casino hotel in the United States.

In the early 1980s, National Life was taken over by Texas-based insurer American General (now part of the American International Group). The new management attempted to sell all of the National Life properties- WSM-AM-FM-TV, Opryland, The Opryland Hotel, and the Grand Ole Opry as one, approaching companies such as MCA, The Marriott Corporation and Anheuser-Busch. While many of the companies showed interest in one aspect of Opryland, such as the theme park alone or the radio station, none were willing to buy the entire complex. American General began to feel that the only way to sell Opryland would be to split it up into separate entities.

Suddenly, the Gaylord Entertainment Company of Oklahoma City stepped in and purchased the entire Opryland property in 1982. It also bought the WSM radio stations; it would have bought WSM-TV (now WSMV) as well had it not already been at the television ownership limit at the time. Ed Gaylord, the then controlling figure of Gaylord Entertainment, was a huge fan of the Opry and weighed in on the decision to purchase Opryland.

Annual changes were made to the park to continue to attact local Nashvillians as well as out-of-town visitors. Package deals including rooms at the hotel, tickets to Opryland, and admission to the Grand Ole Opry were made. In the early 1990s, "Trickets" (three-day admission tickets for one price) were introduced, large numbers of season passes were sold to residents of the Nashville area, and Opryland became the "official destination of NASCAR" (as in, "I'm going to Opryland!"). In the early 1980s Gaylord Entertainment created The Nashville Network ("TNN"), a television network dedicated to country music. For years TNN's main recording facilities were located on-site at Opryland, and the theme park was often featured on the network as a concert venue for country music stars.

However, Opryland was severely handicapped by its location. The Pennington Bend of the Cumberland River was on one side, and a freeway was on the other. This meant that not only was the site subject to occasional flooding but also that the park could not expand to include new attractions as consumer preferences changed. Opryland was forced to remove older attractions in order to add new ones. Also, Nashville's climate made year-round operations almost impossible; seasons were largely limited to weekends in the late fall and early spring and daily in the summer. Seasonal workers became hard to find, and Gaylord found itself with a labor shortage. They began to employ many immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere. Attendance plateaued, and, by 1997, Gaylord management decided that the Opryland property would no longer make a rate of return equal to that desired for its properties and was unlikely ever to return to doing so. Management decided the park should be replaced by a property which made year-round usage of the site. The rides were sold and the park demolished; the site is now occupied by the Opry Mills mall, which now has no connection to Gaylord other than the licensed "Opry" name.

In the park's later years, the official name was changed to "Opryland Themepark". The "Opryland USA" name was designated as the destination's name, to include all of Gaylord Entertainment's Nashville properties. For example: Opryland Hotel, Opryland Themepark, and the Grand Ole Opry were all components of Opryland USA, as were the Ryman Auditorium and Wildhorse Saloon, which are located a few miles away in downtown Nashville.

The "Opryland USA" name disappeared permanently in 2001 when Gaylord repositioned itself, and all the Nashville properties were bundled into the newly renamed "Gaylord Opryland Resort".

In 2004, The Tennessean published a statement by Gaylord Entertainment claiming that current company executives had found no evidence that previous management ever had a business plan for Opryland, let alone any strategic analysis that led to closing it, and that no compelling reasons had been found for the park's closure. Most of the Opryland-era executives left Gaylord Entertainment early in the decade when the company restructured itself.

Nashville's tourist ecomomy has yet to recover fully from this blow as there has not been a comparable property opened (as of 2006) to in any way replace Opryland. Several developers have floated plans for a new Nashville-area theme park; to date none have come to fruition.

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