With fall almost here, the likelihood of construction starting on the new Little Nashville Opry before the end of the year is declining.
However, owner Scott Wayman is staying optimistic.
“We’ll get there,” he said. “There’s just not much to report right now.”
Wayman said last week he is now waiting on his builder to update paperwork and plans on the 30,000-square-foot concert hall with seating for 1,982. Then, those will need to be approved by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
He has received approval from the state health department to construct a wastewater treatment plant to serve the new building.
The 2,000-seat, 22,000-square-foot Opry, built in 1975, was leveled by an arson fire seven years ago this week, Sept. 19, 2009.
Wayman and his family had wanted to buy the country music venue before the fire, but financing fell through, attorneys said at the arson trial.
Wayman finally bought the vacant land on State Road 46 West in 2012 at a county tax sale for a little over $57,000.
He had predicted it would be rebuilt and reopened by 2013, but plans have been delayed several times.
The Opry needed a new wastewater solution because the state health department decided that the septic system couldn’t be reused. The system sits in the floodplain for Salt Creek, as does the entire property, so there was no suitable spot to build a new septic system.
Wayman had to get approval for a wastewater treatment plant instead, which is permitted in the floodplain.
Nearly a year ago, he was issued a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to begin building the plant.
That permit is good until Tuesday, Nov. 1.
However, the permit can be extended, according to the IDEM office of water quality engineering support section. Wayman would need to provide documentation that the plans for the plant have not been altered since they were approved, a department spokesman said.
“We’ve talked to them about the one-year deadline and all that, so we’re going to be fine there,” Wayman said.
The current hang-up is with construction plans for the Opry building itself.
Until he has those in hand, he won’t be able to either seek the state building permit or finalize with the lender.
Wayman has faced multiple delays in the permitting process.
Last year, IDEM lost some paperwork that essentially restarted the approval process for the treatment plant, said Brown County Health Department employee John Kennard.
In August this year, Wayman visited the health department with a smile on his face to pick up his local permit for the treatment plant.
But he still has more approvals to get before any work can happen at the site besides weed control in the parking lot.
Wayman said last week that he and his investors have decided not to begin any construction until all approvals are in place, including approvals for the building.
He told the Brown County Redevelopment Commission in September 2015 that he had the financing lined up, and permits were holding up the process.
After Wayman gets the updated building plans and they are approved by homeland security, then the county needs to sign off on them. Brown County Building Commissioner Lonnie Farlee said his job will primarily be to verify that Wayman has done everything he needed to do up to that point.
The contractor he is working with would like to have at least a roof up before winter, and he told Wayman that they can “put steel up in the snow,” Wayman said.
Once construction is complete, a 10-year clock starts ticking on a property tax abatement for the Opry.
In July 2013, the Brown County Council approved a $250,000, 10-year tax abatement to help Wayman secure financing to build the wastewater treatment plant. Council President David Critser estimated that the current value of the abatement may be closer to $400,000.
The tax break also will not carry forward if the Opry ceases to operate during those 10 years.
A 2013 study by Hoosier Energy estimated the new Opry could bring about $10.4 million to area businesses and suppliers and create as many as 179 jobs directly and indirectly.
“I’ll tell you what, nobody’s more interested than I am,” Wayman said. “Just get ready. I’m expecting season tickets out of you.”
No one has been convicted of burning down the Little Nashville Opry in September 2009.
And unless new evidence arises, no one will be, said Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams.
Opry business manager Jim Bowyer was arrested in March 2012, but a Brown County jury found him not guilty of arson and arson with intent to defraud in January 2014.