NASHVILLE, Ind. – It was once a destination for country music and now a new performing arts center is expected to make Brown County a musical destination again. A $12.5 million facility breaks ground Tuesday that is expected to bring big acts and tourism dollars to town.
The Little Nashville Opry used to bring in rather big names in country music. That stopped in 2009 when arson burned down the facility on the south side of town. When the 2,000 seat concert hall stopped bringing in acts, tourism dollars stopped with it.
“I heard a figure of something like $7 million in a year is what the loss revenue was for the Opry," said Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle.
Local shops and hotels took a hit. Biddle added she had heard some area hotels lost close to 70 percent of their business.
Over the past nine years, the county has put a big focus on the outdoors to bring revenue to the county. While Brown County has an estimated 15,000 people, the counties that surround it have approximately a combined 500,000 population.
The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center is expected to be the missing piece that the area has missed for nearly a decade. The county-funded project will hold 2,000 seats.
Biddle said she hopes visitors will come for a weekend to see a show at the Brown County Playhouse, a 200-seat theater, on Friday, shop and go to a park on Saturday, visit the performing arts center on a Saturday night, and end the weekend with brunch before heading home.
"With the Maple Leaf coming on board, it is kind of supplementing what we already have in tourism," said Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Jane Ellis.
The performing arts center is being built east of downtown, off of S.R. 46 and S.R. 135, near Hawthrone Drive.
Ellis said her office might get on average five calls a week with people asking when the Opry is going to reopen.
Biddle said that wasn't a surprise. She knows a family that used to visit twice a year to see shows at the Opry and they haven't been back since it burned down.
A sign sits on the old Opry facility that says it will open in 2018, but the leader in tourism doesn't believe that will happen before the end of the year.
Both Ellis and Biddle said they support the owner of the land who is trying to reopen the facility. Biddle added the owner is still receiving tax abatements from the land.
"Why not take that opportunity to provide something for the county that is going to give us more tourism exposure, more people coming into the community," said the Republican commissioner. "All of Brown County. Not just Nashville."
The performing arts center is being funded through the county's hotel tax. It's expected to spend roughly $500,000 a year to pay for the work.
The work is expected to take close to a year to complete. Acts are expected to begin being booked months before completion.
"We’re planning to book 26 major, regional shows a year," Biddle said.