Big Gaylord owner wants Opry/Ryman unit spun out

Gabelli also says he'll vote against planned Marriott deal, REIT conversion

If the No. 2 investor at Gaylord Entertainment has his way, the iconic Ryman Auditorium and Opry House will soon be the headline acts in their own company.

Mario Gabelli, whose GAMCO Investors entities own about 13 percent of Gaylord's shares, on Wednesday sent management a letter saying he intends to vote against the planned sale of the company's hotels to Marriott International and its conversion to a real estate investment trust. But he added that — despite selling millions of dollars worth of his team's shares since mid-July — he intends to remain a large investor in Gaylord's successor.

In the short missive, which is available here, Gabelli also says the Opry business will be better off decoupled from the REIT.

"As a public company, with dedicated and focused management, Opry should better flourish and be an 'enormous' success for shareholders," Gabelli wrote.

The Opry & Attractions business unit, which also includes the Wildhorse Saloon, WSM-AM, the General Jackson Showboat and the Gaylord Springs golf course, posted a first-half 2012 profit of $2.6 million on revenues of $33 million. For all of 2011, those numbers were $8.8 million and $65.4 million, respectively.

But Gaylord execs say investors shouldn't look for a spinout anytime soon.

"As we have consistently said, we believe that the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium are important to Nashville and these assets will be owned and operated by our company for the foreseeable future," they said in a statement.

Gabelli's pending no vote on the Marriott/REIT transactions may end being only symbolic: Gaylord last month removed the biggest road block to its plans by buying back almost half of the shares held by No. 1 investor and fellow activist TRT Holdings and sold that entity's remaining stake soon thereafter. Little to no opposition to the Marriott sale and REIT conversion has been heard from other investors.

"We respect the right of all our stockholders to vote in accordance with their views. Our full board of directors, which includes two members originally nominated by Mr. Gabelli, continues to believe that the proposed REIT transaction is in the best interest of all our stockholders," Gaylord officials said in their statement. "We are heartened that he expects to remain a significant stockholder in the company."

At about 12:20 p.m., shares of Gaylord (Ticker: GET) were up about 1 percent to $40.57. Year to date, they've climbed almost 70 percent.