NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Six months after the May flood, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center reopened Monday much to the excitement of hotel employees, executives and the city of Nashville.
"You can't imagine how excited we are, you know, we have been at this now for six months," Gaylord CEO Colin Reed told News 2. "[This] is probably one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life and I know most of the management of this hotel [has said] the same thing."
More than 20 inches of rain fell in early May, flooding the sprawling complex located alongside the Cumberland River.
The lowest levels of the resort filled with as much as 12 feet of water, causing more than $220 million in damages.
Reed and other Gaylord executives made the decision to evacuate hundreds of guests from the hotel on the evening of May 1, despite experts who told them river would not breach the Opryland levee.
Reed told News 2 the decision to evacuate guests and employees was one of the easiest he's ever made.
"We weren't prepared to put our customers at risk," Reed said, adding, "For the first two or three hours that we moved [guests] we had a few customers who were very unhappy, but then when it was known this place flooded the way it did, they got happy again, very happy, and they realized then that fortunately we made the right call."
Post-flood, work on the hotel began immediately.
More than 71 million gallons of water were pumped out of the hotel in three days, an average of 16,500 gallons per minute.
"You know, we had the water out of this place within four days and we had air within this hotel in four days, which kept the humidity levels correct," Reed explained. "That was another big issue for us, because [we] did not want to damage what was not damaged by the flood."
Crews used approximately 5,600 gallons of paint and 21,000 sheets of drywall in the construction process.
During the peak of construction, nearly 1,300 workers were on site daily.
In anticipation for its reopening, the hotel's staff did a dry run through a typical hotel day over the weekend.
"It gets the front office stars a chance to practice, but also allows our staff to have a little bit of fun before the actual customer arrives," Senior Vice President at Gaylord Opryland Kemp Gallineau told News 2.
While some gave mock service at the front desk, others tested the coffee bar and visited stores.
"It gives people a different advantage, you may have never understood what happens at the front desk," Gallineau continued. "There's a little cross training, but really it's about getting staff prepared for opening day."
For some of the employees, it was the first time they had seen the hotel after its extensive renovation.
"A lot of people are stunned, the beauty," Gallineau said. "They've seen a lot of people walking through looking at things but I think it's just great having your feet on common ground again."
Among the changes at Gaylord Opryland include a completely redesigned Cascades lobby with a new VIP check-in area.
"I really believe this hotel is head and shoulder better than where it was before," said CEO Reed. "It was a world class hotel, sure, on May 1, but this hotel, when we open it up I don't know where you [can] see an asset like this anywhere in the world. I've been in the hotel industry 35 years. I've never seen a hotel as beautiful or big… I don't know where else you [could] see it other than Nashville, Tennessee."
There are several new restaurants and bars including Ravello, featuring southern Italian cuisine, Solario, featuring authentic Mexican, and The Falls, which serves up hand-crafted cocktails in an incredible atrium setting, according to Gaylord Opryland's Web site.
The Magnolia guest rooms have been redesigned and renovated, as well as the Presidential suites.
Pete Weien, Senior Vice President and General Manager at Gaylord Opryland told News 2 all the newly renovated rooms now include HDTV flat screen televisions, refrigerators, two sinks and a work space.
The rooms also have a more modern design, instead of the floral print and pastel colors that were previously used in the hotel.
"What we've done in these guest rooms is really brought them up to some very contemporary looks," Weien continued. "We've moved away from some of the design themes of the past, we've tried to take advantage of the natural color of the hotel that we see in the atrium and bring in a lot of tans and browns and greens."
Weien called the newly renovated rooms "spectacular."
"I think it's as nice a room as you can find in any hotel in the country," he said.
News 2 will be broadcasting live from the resort all day on Monday. Watch live coverage online during News 2's regularly scheduled newscasts.