Back in January of 1993, the land on Broadway where Bridgestone Arena now sits wasn't much to look at, and neither was the surrounding area - but one man had a vision. Phil Bredesen, Nashville's mayor at the time, called Peter Heidenreich into his office shortly after the calendar turned with a proposition.
"He declared that we were going to build an arena," Heidenreich, who was working in public works for the Metro Government at the time, recalled. "I went, 'Great! We got any money?' But it was his intent to do something out of the box. Arenas had been talked about in Nashville for many, many years… And we immediately started to figure out how we were going to do this."
Of course, an undertaking of this magnitude carries a slew of moving parts, figuratively and literally. The process began, and Heidenreich was named project manager to oversee what was to come. A firm was hired to design the "dream arena" as Heidenreich called it, and one thing played into the city's favor - sometimes.
"At the time, the bad news was we didn't have a tenant - but the good news was we didn't have a tenant," Heidenreich said. "So, we had the opportunity to create a true multi-purpose public facility, which answered a lot of needs of Nashville, one being music, two being sports, three being just an assembly place."
Back in the early 90s, a venue of the arena's size simply didn't exist in Nashville, and with the country music scene really starting to take off, there was a need. From the start, the intention was to create not only a musical performance hall, but also a facility that had all the necessary requirements to one day host an NHL or NBA team as a primary tenant, too.
Significant progress was made, and by June of 1993, the funding had been approved and the architectural competition was about to conclude. All of a sudden, a state-of-the-art arena was coming to Nashville - and the city was about to transform like never before.
Today, a walk down Broadway is immersed with live music filling the air, honky tonks, restaurants, boot shops and more for what has become one of the true entertainment capitals of America. That was far from the case 25 years ago.
"Phil Bredesen, he's quite a genius, but he knew that this city had to cross Broadway," Heidenreich said. "It had to go south. It had to make a statement and it had to create the energy for other things to happen… The city was starting to really figure out how to grow. The Batman building was under construction, the Hard Rock shows up, all of this is kind of going on, and then of course the [Houston] Oilers say, 'Hey, you want a football team?'
"The old Convention Center where Fifth and Broadway sits today was built in the 80s, and they purposely did not put in an exit door on Broadway because they were afraid that somebody visiting would actually end up on Broadway. It was a nasty place… And Bredesen really wanted to make that step. He says, 'We've got to be bold. We're going across Broadway.'"
Bredesen was right, and the city received 30 acres, 10 of which were used for the arena, and additional lots where places like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hilton Hotel sit today.
But the arena was the focal point to start, and as Heidenreich says, Nashville's "citizens were enthused and enthralled and intrigued even if they didn't truly understand what could happen down the road."
Over the next three years, the site went from a blank slate to a palatial dwelling which resembled a spaceship that seemed to rise from the ground, complete with a unique tower reflective of the other church steeples and the like heading uphill on Broadway.
"That tower…it's iconic," Heidenreich said. "People, they say, 'There's the arena - see, there's the tower. We're home.'"
Almost four years after that meeting in Bredesen's office, the dream had become reality. Now, it was time to show it off.
"We had an open house before the first event, and I just stood at the front door, and there were like 20,000 people that came that day," Heidenreich recalled. "We said, 'You can go anywhere you want. This is your building. You want to go see the locker rooms? Fine. You want to go to the back of house? Fine. You want to go sit in a suite? Go sit in a suite.' And they swarmed that place. And they owned it. And that, for me, that was it. It wasn't just the warehouse, it was Nashville's building, and I think people new and old still feel that way."
And then came the flush, too.
"The operator at the time, [he] had started kind of a quirky thing that's now a national standard before we had final completion of the building, and he invited Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to man every toilet and every urinal in the building and have a giant flush off to make sure that everything worked," Heidenreich said. "The kids had a blast, and it was a heck of a cool thing for the city to experience, but it kind of was saying, 'Hey, this building is going to work for you. We've done our job, we worked hard. 'And I think for the most part it did exemplify the success that we've had. I don't want to get nostalgic about a flush off, but it's an example of how careful we were to make sure that the city's and the people's money was being spent in a smart way."
Britt Kincheloe remembers the flush off well. A recent Vanderbilt graduate back then, she had taken a temporary position at the arena and was assigned a restroom to oversee that day.
"We were all stationed, we had our own troops in different bathrooms, and we counted down and everybody flushed the toilet at the same time to make sure that the plumbing could take the pressure - literally," Kincheloe said. "So, those are things that people had brought - their experiences from other places [and they knew we needed to do something like that]. I didn't have a clue."
But she does now.
Over 25 years later, Kincheloe, now the Vice President of Guest Services for the Nashville Predators and Bridgestone Arena, has seen just about everything imaginable inside the building and beyond. From hockey to concerts to shows and the occasional rodeo or circus, there isn't much Kincheloe hasn't dealt with over the past two-and-a-half decades.
She started answering phones in offices on Second Avenue before the arena was even open, and there were hiccups along the way, like when the sprinklers in the food court area went off unexpectedly just before hosting a party for all of the construction workers who built the facility.
Kincheloe estimates there were only 20 to 30 full-time staff members at the beginning, and she recalls it being very much like a family all figuring everything out together. On New Year's Eve of 1996, she too became a full-time employee, and the rest, as has been said, is history.
Not a bad gig for someone who really didn't have much of a clue what they wanted to do.
"I didn't know this industry existed," Kincheloe said. "I got my degree in Communication Studies at Vanderbilt, and I was waiting tables… I fell into this, and it was nice because it was something different every day."
Like so many in Nashville, Kincheloe had also never seen a hockey game before when the Predators came to town and dropped the puck in 1998. The goal was always to attract a professional sports franchise to the city to occupy the arena with regularity, but the NHL coming to Nashville wasn't necessarily first on everyone's list. Now, it's tough to imagine this place without the Preds.
"I think one of the best things that we did was bring in [broadcasters] Terry Crisp and Pete Weber, because in the beginning it was a focus on education," Kincheloe said. "So, it was hockey 101 where they would have classes to explain the sport… The city had no clue. So, I think that that focus on the entertainment aspect and the band stage was kind of the hook to get people in if you had Deanna Carter, Vince Gill and Martina McBride on your billboards. They're like, 'Oh, I can get into that.' So, it was more entertainment with hockey as a side note. And making the shift from being excited about a win, to being disappointed about a loss, I think was kind of the turning point of being real when the team started playing."
Hockey comes first for many in Nashville now, and people like Kincheloe have been there to welcome Predators Season Ticket Citizens from the very beginning. She admits it's a bit jarring when toddlers who were in strollers back then are now becoming ticket buyers themselves, but it's also part of the evolution of what's happened thanks in part to the building that has housed so many of the greatest moments in franchise history.
One of the very few who has been there for it all, Kincheloe never imagined a few phone calls as a temp would lead her to hand flowers to Andrea Bocelli on stage during a concert or work with Prince's representatives to find a movie theater to rent out after a show.
But that's just what happens in this industry she didn't even know existed when she got her start - and one building has been her home through all of it.
"I'm really proud to do what I do," Kincheloe said. "It is possible to be somewhere for 25 years. It's not that common anymore, but I'm really proud… I'd be bored if it was the same thing, day in and day out. No two concerts are the same. Hockey games are a little bit more routine just because of the nature of the setup of the game, but it's something different every day. And knowing that each person matters and makes a difference in the overall experience, and making people feel like I see that, and I appreciate it, I want people to know that."
Part of Heidenreich feels like that open house was just yesterday. While 25 years are hardly just a moment in time, it also is rather remarkable to look back at how the idea for Bridgestone Arena began and what it's become.
And now, nearly 1,000 hockey games and a quarter century of memories later, it seems as though the building's history has only just begun.
"It's truly astounding the level of success, and of course a lot of that goes to [Predators and Bridgestone Arena President and CEO] Sean Henry and his team, the Preds and everything else, but we all had something good to work with," Heidenreich said. "And shame on us if we took this good building in and didn't maximize its potential. And I think we have, and that's a tribute everybody's been involved in. And I think the future's bright, we just have to keep on rockin'… It's got history and it's got legacy, and it's got lots of good memories. Historically it's going to be looked at as something that's changed downtown Nashville and Middle Tennessee forever."