New sign heralds Opry reopening

The Little Nashville Opry will reopen next year, according to a sign posted in the building’s empty parking lot. And according to one of the financiers listed on that sign, $5 million has been promised to build it.

Golden Gate Capital, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, posted a news release on the website saying it had secured $5 million “for the renovation of the Grand Old Opera House in Nashville, nearby Indianapolis, Indiana.”

From 1975 to the night it burned in September 2009, the Little Nashville Opry brought thousands of visitors to Brown County to see country music legends like George Jones and Loretta Lynn. An employee went on trial for arson in 2014, but wasn’t convicted.

Story continues below gallery

Scott Wayman and his and family have owned the land where it once stood since April 2012.

When reached June 6, Wayman confirmed that the news release about the financing was legitimate, but he said he didn’t want to answer any more questions about the status of the project right now.

He paid $57,630 for the six acres on State Road 46 West after the former owner, Esther Hamilton, failed to pay her taxes. The land went into the county’s tax certificate sale in 2012.

It’s a buy the family had been trying to make for years, according to Wayman’s testimony at the arson trial.

Wayman, a Martinsville furniture store owner and country radio host, immediately announced he planned to rebuild the Little Nashville Opry.

On May 12, the new sign announcing two financing partners and two building companies involved in the project went up in the parking lot. Scott Wayman is listed as president, Gail L. Wayman as vice president and Janice D. Wayman as secretary of the new Little Nashville Opry organization.

The sign says it will reopen in 2018.

“The Little Nashville Opera House is a symbol and a beacon for historical musical venues for past, current and future generations to come,” said Golden Gate Capital Senior Vice President Andrew Bloom in the news release about the funding, dated May 5. “This is a worthwhile funding (venture) earmarked for improving the arts and community.”

A message seeking comment from the funding company went unreturned last week.

Back in the summer of 2013, Wayman estimated building the 30,000-square-foot venue would cost $4.5 million.

He sought and was awarded a 10-year tax abatement from the county council — the only one the county has ever approved.

“Bringing this project to fruition is key to the economic recovery of Brown County and Nashville, Indiana,” said a July 2014 letter of support from the council.

The abatement allows Wayman to pay taxes only on the value of the vacant land, not on the improvements he plans to make to it. Those 10 years don’t start until the Opry is built.

As it is, the six acres brought in $1,621.40 in property taxes for 2016, according to online records.

At the time it was approved, the tax abatement was estimated to save Wayman about $250,000 over those 10 years, and that savings was intended to help him build a wastewater treatment plant to serve the nearly 2,000-seat concert hall.

The original treatment system couldn’t be reused because it had been condemned before the Opry burned down, he said.

He had to go through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to get a permit for a new treatment plant — a process that took more than two years. That permit was granted in October 2015. Then he needed to get the building plans approved by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security before he could get a local building permit.

As of June 7, Homeland Security plan review staff couldn’t find any records pertaining to a project under “Little Nashville Opry” or at the site address, the public affairs office said.

Brown County Building Commissioner Lonnie Farlee said he talked with Wayman in May when he came into the office to make changes to his sign. He said Wayman offered to give him the building plans then, but Farlee advised him to wait until the state signed off in case any changes were made.

After the state and local permits are secured, Farlee couldn’t think of any other meeting votes or government approvals the Opry might need.

Wayman told The Democrat in 2014 that the floor plans would intentionally resemble the original Opry, and he hoped that design brings a sense of comfort to returning customers. “I think people will get a real kick out of some of the things they will see again,” he said.

Author photo
Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.