The first water-and-snow park in the country is coming to Nashville thanks in part to country music star Dolly Parton.
The Dollywood Company and Gaylord Entertainment are partnering to invest an initial $50 million in the park — which will be Phase I of a larger “family entertainment zone” across Briley Parkway from the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
Gaylord Entertainment Chairman and CEO Colin Reed said the move is in response to years of complaints about Opry Mills Mall replacing Opryland USA theme park 15 years ago.
“Phase I fills a void that happened in this town, which really took away opportunities for families to come here as families and spend a day or two together, having fun as a family,” Reed said.
Reed, Parton, Mayor Karl Dean and Gov. Bill Haslam gathered at the Grand Ole Opry House to announce the project on Thursday. The park is scheduled to open by the summer of 2014 and is expected to add 450 part-time and full-time jobs to the area.
“We do great with business travelers, but this project is what we need to attract more families,” Dean said.
Gaylord currently owns 114 acres across from Opryland and plans to use half of that for the water-snow park. (Here's a map of the area.) Dollywood General Manager Craig Ross said plans to develop the remaining acreage haven’t started yet.
“At this point, we’re really hoping that this announcement today will bring more folks with innovative ideas to join us in this project,” Ross said.
The idea was planted about a year ago when Haslam appointed Reed to chair the Tennessee Tourism Committee. Reed spoke to Dolly Parton Productions President Ted Miller about opening a water park on their vacant land. That’s when Miller mentioned that Parton was interested in expanding her East Tennessee amusement empire to Nashville, Reed said.
Haslam and Dean said no specific details on tax breaks or incentives for the project were available. Dean did say the city would look to partner with the project on infrastructure and marketing.
Reed said the logistics of creating easily accessible roadways in and out of the property would be a “costly thing.”
Parton added her signature humor to the announcement of the park, calling Dean her “second husband.”
“I just wish my husband could run me as well as (Dean) runs this city,” Parton said, introducing a blushing Dean.
Parton also said she wasn’t concerned about the new park taking visitors away from Dollywood in East Tennessee.
“We feel like we’ll be beneficial to each other. I like representing all of Tennessee,” Parton said.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the yet-to-be-named water-snow park is expected to take place in 2013.
“We’ve got to come up with something really good. We’re not even ready to start making jokes about it yet,” Parton said.