Nashville, Tennessee

Floodwall built to help protect the city’s tourism industry

In May 2010, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and the Grand Ole Opry House were severely damaged when the Cumberland River overtopped a levee. Nashville’s popular tourist attractions suffered more than $190 million worth of damage and were closed for months. As a result, 1,800 resort and venue employees were temporarily laid off and there was a dip in tourism for the entire city. Once the buildings had been restored, the employees were reinstated and the owners invested $17 million in building a floodwall around the properties to help prevent future flood damage.

Photo by David Fine - FEMA

Community facts

Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

The storm was estimated to be more severe than a 0.1-percent annual chance rain event, dropping more than 13 inches of rain over two days. The famous Grand Ole Opry stage, part of a group of resort and music venues that together constitute one of the city’s biggest employers, was more than four feet underwater. In the aftermath of the storm, the local economy—including employees, the tourism industry and suppliers—was negatively affected by the temporary closure.

Once the damage caused by the flood had been repaired, the owners focused on improving the existing floodwall around the two properties. This wall, which was originally built to withstand a 1-percent annual chance event, was raised to reduce flood hazards during a 0.2-percent annual chance event. The $17 million cost was viewed as a relatively low level of investment to reduce the risk of future damage. In addition, the improved wall was designed to enable easy access into and out of the properties during a flood event.

The new flood mitigation system reduces the risk of future economic and social disruption, including potential layoffs and lost tax income at the popular Nashville destinations, which provide 20% of the city’s hotel tax revenue.

Benefits of mitigation

Avoided costs
$2.6 billion
Estimated total replacement cost for rebuilding Gaylord Properties and Grand Ole Opry House
Total investment
$17 million
Mitigation investment for floodwall
Other benefits
$200 million or more
Potential property damage savings
Source: Urban Land Institute (2015). Returns on Resilience: The Business Case—Gaylord Opryland/Grand Ole Opry.

Project challenges

Balancing flood hazard reduction with appearance and easy access

The biggest challenge was ensuring that the wall did not interfere with guests’ experience or with their ability to move easily between the two sites.

The solution included adding removable gates that allow easy vehicular and pedestrian movement. New brick cladding on the concrete walls mimics the local architecture and makes the structure less imposing. The property owners found a reliable flood mitigation solution that fit the local building traditions and did not interfere with customer experience.

“The city was happy and very supportive of our enhanced flood protection because Gaylord Opryland generates a lot of group business and tourism in Nashville and also produces a tremendous amount of taxes for the city. […] We've mitigated what appeared to be a pretty big risk for the future”
Bennett Westbrook, executive vice president and chief development officer for Ryman Hospitality Properties, owner of Grand Ole Opry House

Future considerations

Deep flood waters makes residential street inaccessible.
Spending $17 million today could prevent billions of dollars of damage in the future

The owners are confident that their investment in a 0.2-percent annual chance flood mitigation system will reduce the risk of flood damage to the facilities and disruption for employees and visitors. Moreover, they say that spending millions now to help avoid business disruption in the future was a straightforward choice to make. These facilities do not just represent significant income for Ryman Hospitality Properties, but also have a major impact on the tourist economy in Nashville.

Flood mitigation resources

Below is a non-exhaustive list of other flood mitigation information resources.