Grand Ole Opry Purchase of Austin City Limits Complex Dissolved

Well, this is one crisis of cross-continent venue ownership that could have meant further homogenization of American country music that has now been averted.

On December 10th, 2019, Ryman Hospitality Properties—which owns The Grand Ole Opry, The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, as well as numerous other important music properties in Nashville—struck a deal to purchase the 37-story, full city block-sized mixed-use complex in downtown Austin along second street known as Block 21. Along with being the location for the W Austin Hotel and other businesses, Block 21 is the location of the Moody Theater, otherwise known as the home of Austin City Limits—the longest-running music television show in history.

The show moved to the Moody Theater in 2011 after being located on the University of Texas campus since its inception. An iconic statue of Willie Nelson—who played the first episode of the venerable show—sits at the southeast corner of the property. More importantly, many live concerts are held in the Moody space under the name “ACL Live,” though the Austin City Limits television show itself is a separate entity. Ryman Hospitality was set to pay $275 million for the property, including assuming $141 million in debt still owed for the original development.

However the deal has now fallen through. “In the current capital markets and economic environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have determined that it is not in the best interest of our shareholders to focus our resources and capital on this project at this time,” says Ryman Hospitality Properties CEO Colin Reed. “We sincerely regret that the current circumstances do not permit us to complete the acquisition.”

Ryman Hospitality is walking away from the deal that was supposed to close in Q1 of 2020, but at a hefty price. Due of the contract termination, the company must pay the current owner, Stratus Properties, $15 million. This is a tough pill to swallow for Ryman Hospitality, and another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a major toll on venue owners and promoters. Both the Moody Theater and the Grand Ole Opry House have been closed to crowds since March.

However it also means there is no longer a concern for the merging of these two iconic institutions of American roots music that could have resulted in the further bleeding of regionalism out of the music. Austin was the location Willie Nelson and others escaped to when Nashville became too creatively constrictive. Luckily, it’s less likely now Austin City Limits and the Moody Theater will become Grand Ole Opry West.

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