A stock trading plan set up last month on behalf of Ryman Hospitality Properties Chairman, President and CEO Colin Reed was hard at work this week. After generating profits of about $1.1 million Friday and Monday, the plan on Tuesday and Wednesday exercised another 50,000 options and then sold the resulting shares. Reed's profit on those transactions topped $1.5 million. Ryman shares (Ticker: RHP) closed Thursday at $49.27, less than 2 percent their recent highs.
Hotel guests visiting Music City paid an average daily rate of almost $126 in June. That was 14.9 percent higher than the figure from a year earlier and was, according to research firm STR, the highest increase among the country's top markets. That performance was no doubt helped by the thousands who visited town early in the month for the CMA Music Fest, but it also was right in line with STR's March data, suggesting Nashville's hotel sector is moving a good bit upmarket.
It hasn't escaped Ryman Hospitality Properties Chairman, President and CEO Colin Reed that shares of the hotel real estate investment trust have been on a nice run from $42 to $50 (Ticker: RHP) over the past three months. On Friday and Monday, a trading plan set up last month by Reed exercised 50,000 stock options and sold the resulting shares. The profit on those transactions came to almost $1.1 million.
The regional airport serving Athens, Georgia, is losing its federal air service subsidy, which suggests the SeaPort Airlines flights between there and Nashville International Airport will end soon. The $1.6 million in federal aid had been in place since the fall of 2012.
Nashville Zoo officials commanded local media attention Wednesday by announcing the exotic wildlife park is planning a massive expansion between now and 2020 — an undertaking that could carry a $160 million price tag.
South American Andean bears, spider monkeys, penguins and giant river otters are the first on a list of animals to be added. A new veterinary hospital and entry plaza are planned. Infrastructure will be updated.
As such, the zoo could be transformed from a roughly 82-acre facility known for lush landscaping yet a modest animal collection to a 188-acre cultural attraction of excellence. What is already Nashville’s most popular cultural attraction (more than 750,000 visitors attended the zoo in 2013) could become even more popular.
It all sounds wonderful.
But the first question those who closely follow the zoo must have asked themselves upon hearing Wednesday’s announcement is this: Haven’t we heard about big zoo expansion plans in the past?
Yes, we have, as Nashville Zoo, which began operations at Grassmere in 1997 after having been located near Joelton, previously released two master plans that would later be greatly modified on a less-grand scale.
But this time could be different. Zoo spokesman Jim Bartoo told the Post today there are elements in place that were not so during previous expansion plans.
“This plan is more comprehensive in nature and involves a much broader planning process,” Bartoo said. “We did a feasibility study and an economic impact study, and we hired chief development officer Suzanne Iler [in 2013] to spearhead our capital campaign. This latest plan has a lot more seriousness to it. The other plans offered things we wanted to do pending the support behind the process. This time, the support behind the process is much more substantial.”
On this theme, the zoo has about 35,000 members now compared to roughly 13,000 10 years ago. It projects to have almost 60,000 members by 2020.
Of note, zoo officials have scrapped the idea of creating bio-geographic regions and opting, instead, for creating exhibits and adding animals based on need, the preferences of major donors and animal availability and cost (no zoo can justify unveiling a massive area devoted to the future exhibits, for example, of Asian animals if it doesn’t have donors who want to fund such exhibits).
“The process of funding and animal availability doesn’t allow for that,” Bartoo said of the concept of designing the zoo using bio-geographic regions.
As the zoo enters the second half of this decade, it is debt free and fully accredited. Director Rich Schwartz has garnered high praise within the industry. Attendance and support are strong. In short, Nashville Zoo is primed to grow.
“We had people contact us on our Facebook page almost immediately after yesterday’s media event and asking how they could help,” Bartoo said.
Read more about the zoo’s plans here.
The Tupelo Airport Authority Board has picked Oregon-based SeaPort Airlines to provide air service from northern Mississippi to Memphis and Nashville. The carrier and airport still need approval from federal authorities but plan to fly 18 round trips weekly between Tupelo and Nashville International Airport.
When I was young lad of about 12, I would sometimes ponder the thought of working as a designer of zoo exhibits. Zoos thrilled me, as they do most kids of that age.
But after failing algebra at 14 — and realizing my woeful math skills would not lend themselves to a career in the architecture field — I ditched the idea. My Plan B at the time did not include eventually toiling as a business journalist. But here I am, 38 years later, writing a blog about zoos, in which I have maintained a lifelong interest (I have visited 38 zoos in North America).
Not surprisingly, I have followed Nashville Zoo happenings since the Grassmere-based exotic wildlife park began operations in the early 1990s near Joelton.
With this info as a backdrop, an email message I received on Tuesday caught my attention. In short, Nashville Zoo officials will hold a press conference on Wednesday, July 9, at 2 p.m. to announce plans for a “major expansion.” Mayor Karl Dean, zoo President Rick Schwartz, zoo board members, Metro Council members and various community leaders will attend.
I called Jim Bartoo, the zoo’s always-professional spokesman, to gauge the situation. Bartoo said new animals will be part of the equation but declined to offer specifics. He stressed the key purpose of the press conference is to allow zoo officials to thank Metro for the $10 million it earmarked for the zoo in its most recent capital improvement budget. Of note, the zoo will need to match that dollar figure to qualify for the $10 million.
“We’ll talk about what we want to do and why we need support dollars to match that [figure],” Bartoo said. “A lot of infrastructure work will be announced. This is a chance to launch our capital campaign. We’ll need everybody’s help and we’ll work on getting that help on a strategic basis.”
On the infrastructure theme, the zoo will soon begin overhauling its entry plaza. Bartoo said that undertaking will require about a year. The press conference will allow zoo officials to explain how that effort will unfold.
“We will talk about some things [during the media event] that are right around the corner, but will focus more about our plans for the next seven to nine years,” Bartoo said.
The “right around the corner” comment intrigues me. Zoo officials know that to maximize excitement at a media event, they will need to unveil plans that go beyond the entry plaza and other infrastructure updates. Animals must be on the agenda.
Most recently, Nashville Zoo opened in May an exhibit for cassowary, a flightless bird native to New Guinea. That followed the September 2013 opening of Kangaroo Kickabout, which features red kangaroo and sulphur-crested cockatoo.
So what is the next animal exhibit to which Bartoo hints? It would be easy to speculate on giant anteater, as Nashville Zoo maintains an impressive off-exhibit collection of the distinctive mammal (and the aforementioned Schwartz likely would list the animal as one of his five favorites). The hope is for a primate species, of which the facility is in dire need.
The Post will have the news on Wednesday.
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