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Bridgestone Arena: 15 Years In 15 Days -- 1997

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
This is the first installment of a 15-day series that will celebrate Bridgestone Arena’s 15th anniversary on Dec. 17, 2011.

15 Years: Working For The Downtown Economy

Today we look at how Downtown Nashville’s economy has benefited from the arena. Restaurants, bars, clubs and stores have flocked downtown since the arena opened, and other longtime establishments saw strong spikes in revenue when the building opened its doors in 1996. It has been a period of growth which has transformed Downtown Nashville into one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

Brenda Sanderson (Legends Corner) The Year In Review Did You Know In Their Own Words

Brenda Sanderson, Downtown Business Owner
Brenda Sanderson and her family own four honky tonks on Broadway. They are Legends Corner, The Stage, The Second Fiddle, and Nashville Crossroads.

1997 Year-In-Review at Bridgestone Arena

On Dec. 15, 1996 more than 26,000 people got their first look at the then-named Nashville Arena. Throngs of people gathered on the plaza at Fifth and Broadway to get a sneak peak at the city’s newest venue. Mayor Phil Bredesen greeted guests from the red carpeted entrance, shaking hands and answering questions about the expansive arena. Guests escaped the cold to enjoy free soft drinks and hot dogs and to tour the 20,000 seat venue in advance of its first pair of shows later in the week: back-to-back nights of Amy Grant’s Country Christmas.

Construction on what was then called Nashville Arena

Amy Grant from the arena's debut performance
Amid softly falling snow, some 13,000 ticketholders lined up on a red-carpeted plaza awaiting entrance into the Bridgestone Arena’s debut event – Amy Grant’s Tennessee Christmas on Dec. 18, 1996. The Nashville Symphony and Orchestra warmed the crowd before Amy Grant took to the stage in a sparkling gold strapless gown to serenade the audience with a medley of holiday classics. Vince Gill, Cece Winans, Michael W. Smith and Gary Chapman also performed that evening. Mayor Bredesen received the arena’s first standing ovation as Grant called him to the stage to present him with a glass rendition of the venue and to thank him for his “big dream.”
The first sporting event to take place in Bridgestone Arena wasn’t a fast-paced NBA game or a hard-hitting NHL game, as the city of Nashville had envisioned. It wasn’t a game from the soon-to-be-named Nashville Kats Arena Football League either. It was, in fact, the rough-and-tumble world of figure skating. In February of 1997, the United States Figure Skating Championships descended on Nashville and brought with it the likes of Nicole Bobek, Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski, who took home that year’s US Ladies title to become the youngest ladies champion ever at the age of 14. During that competition Lipinski also performed the first ever triple loop-triple loop combo in her free skate. Not too bad for Nashville’s first go at the sports world.
Michelle Kwan took home the Gold Medal in the '97 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
In 1997, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman awarded the city of Nashville an expansion team
In 1997 the dream of bringing an NHL franchise to Nashville was on its way to becoming a reality. Early in the year a group led by Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold made a formal presentation before the NHL requesting an expansion franchise. After a visit from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman , the league granted the group a conditional franchise to play in Nashville. In the months following the announcement, Jack Diller was named first president of the Nashville Predators, David Poile was named first general manager, Barry Trotz was named as Nashville’s first head coach and Paul Gardner was named the first assistant coach. In September, Leipold and Diller unveiled the saber-toothed tiger logo in a downtown press conference and hosted the Ice Breaker Bash, an event that attracted more than 12,000 hockey fans to the arena for games, demonstrations and displays. In November, Leipold and Diller unveiled the team’s name (as selected by fans) at the Wildhorse Saloon in front of inaugural season ticketholders and fans. It was then that the “Predators” were truly born as the NHL's next franchise.
While the Nashville Predators were well on their way to calling Bridgestone Arena home in 1997, there was another team with a feline inspired moniker poised to bring professional sports to the Music City. The Arena Football League’s Nashville Kats kicked off their inaugural season at Bridgestone Arena in May of 1997, beating the San Jose SaberCats by a score of 47-21. The Kats boasted a 10-4 record on the season but eventually bowed out to the Tampa Bay Storm that August in the Quarterfinals. The Kats remained a Bridgestone Arena staple through 2007.

The Nashville Kats were the first pro sports team to call Bridgestone Arena home

Did You Know:

  • December 2010 was record setting for Bridgestone Arena, with a building-high 334,917 guests walking through the doors for 22 separate events. Seven Predators home games and 15 concerts created the most attended month in the history of Bridgestone Arena.
  • Approximately 18 miles of hot dogs are sold at Bridgestone Arena per year -- that's roughly 186,000 six-inch dogs.
  • The temperature of the ice surface for a hockey game is 19-degrees Farenheit; the temperature at ice level is raised to 22-24-degrees for figure skating. Higher temperatures create softer ice which helps skaters land their jumps.

In Their Own Words:

"The impact of the arena has been measured in my mind by how the landscape of the area has changed during the last 15 years. From new restaurants and shopping on Broadway to the Hilton Hotel and park, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, downtown has changed from a place that you would not go to after dark to a destination for everyone. In 15 years, the arena has turned the Nashville downtown to something Nashvillians can be proud of instead of ashamed of."
   --Original Bridgestone Arena Employee, Nat Harden, vice president of ticket sales for Bridgestone Arena/Nashville Predators

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