Written by Linda Bryant for the Tennessee Ledger
Eddie Stewart, CEO of Stewart Transportation Services, is an event transportation expert. Based in Nashville, Stewart’s company is involved in planning and coordinating all types of transportation for events all over the world, including the Ryder Cup.
STS won a bid five years ago from the Nashville Sports Authority to manage Nissan Stadium service lots. Landing the contract resulted in the company handling transportation for all events at Nissan Stadium and all Titans games.
Put simply, Stewart is an expert on how to shuttle people around, from one to 50,000. The company works in virtually every city in North America, and clients include Fortune 500 corporations, national travel and trade associations and sporting event organizations.
The Ledger spoke with Stewart to find out how Nashville compares with other cities when it comes to hosting big events.
You have coordinated and managed transportation and parking for events all over the nation and world. How does Nashville stack up as a city to host events?
“I have lived here all my life. I have had the privilege of watching this city grow and change. I will say this: Nashville is very well coordinated when it comes to these things. It may not seem that way to some people who come downtown. But our company works many other places – Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, places that have more serious traffic challenges. We do a very good job in Nashville.
“The real key to these events is we are able to sit down and plan them out with all entities and with the city government. It takes a lot of work. Sometimes it requires meeting with MTA because you are going to disrupt their route. Sometimes it involves getting the Fire Department involved because you have to make sure you aren’t blocking something that will create a safety hazard. Often, we have to engage off-duty Metro Police to hold lanes open for us to valet.
“Or in some cases it’s just to enforce the trafficking around valet (services) to enforce the safety issue. We get a lot of cooperation from the Convention & Visitors Corp. They do a great job of bringing everyone together.’’
Just how big of a disruption are the upcoming Stanley Cup games going to be?
“The Preds plan is pretty much the same plan they’ve had all year long. Their fans are very regimented in their normal routine. They know how to come to a game, where they are going park, if they are going to come early, what they are going to do, etc.
“The bigger change we’ve seen in the games leading up to the Stanley Cup is that there’s more of an opportunity to now come downtown and be a part of the action. You can come downtown and sit on the plaza or you can walk around downtown. A lot more people are using Uber and Lyft, which is creating its own kind of traffic congestion.”
Is Nashville ready to roll the city out for the Super Bowl?
“Before we host the Super Bowl, I think we should host the NFL Draft. It’s starting to move around now. It was at Chicago two years ago and Philadelphia this year. Nashville can certainly handle it.
“As far as the Super Bowl goes, you bet we’d love to have it. One of the challenges is that we have an open-air stadium and our weather is just a little borderline. These are a couple of things that might prevent us from getting that call to host a Super Bowl. There are still a few things that need to be addressed: particularly hotel rooms and stadium infrastructure. It may be a ways off, but we’d love to host the Super Bowl.”
How does Nashville compare to other cities when it comes to hosting events?
“We are not on the scale of Atlanta and Chicago, but we are probably more of an event city than those cities are. That’s because we have so many music opportunities, and we have a downtown Nashville that’s so vibrant and exciting. There’s always something going on. We can have a hockey game, a major concert and several other valet and sponsored events going on at the same time.
“You might not find that kind of scenario in even some bigger cities. You might have a big event happening, but not as many at the same time. It has a lot to do with the branding of Music City. We have so many different opportunities to host different kinds of events that surround the music industry here. That’s the unique thing about this town.’’
What needs to be fixed to make Nashville more of a premiere event city?
“We’ve got to do something to solve our congestion and traffic issues. I believe it’s more of an issue on the surrounding freeways of Nashville than it is on the highways and byways, although those are certainly congested, as well. I would love to see some sort of a monorail system that runs from Murfreesboro to Nashville or from Brentwood to Nashville. But that’s very challenging.
“Living in America makes it hard for people to give up the individual experience of riding in your own car. We have an office in Seattle, and that’s a place where every public bus is full. The culture here is just not aligned with that kind of ride experience. It’s going to take a lot of money [to build a monorail], and it can be a hard sell to lay it all out there on the basis of the question, ‘Will they come, and will they ride?’”
Does Nashville have a lot of price gouging when it comes to parking during big events?
“We haven’t seen a lot of that. The city and the media do a good job of reporting on it and keeping things in check. It’s also very competitive here. If you are charging $20; the other guy across the street is going to be charging $20. Naturally, the closer you are to an event means the market will bear a higher price [for parking].
“One of the trends we’re seeing is that a lot of the small businesses in outlying areas [of downtown] are opening up their parking lots. If it’s a nice night, and you are willing to walk, you can find $5 parking. It’s just not going to be right up to the stadium.’’
Can you give a “day in the life” type of example of a typical parking challenge downtown?
“Last week during the Western Conference Final game we had a valet project at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We were valeting right there on Demonbreun Street while a game was going. There was a John Legend event going on at Ascend Theater at the same time.
“Normally, we would have Lot R at Nissan Stadium available for the fans going to the game and for the employees of Bridgestone Arena. But because there was the Good Guys Car Show going on that week, it took over all of Lot R. It created a lot of different scenarios for all those businesses. Bridgestone had to look at relocating their employees and some of their fans.”