By Chris Cannon
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Dignitaries, country music artists and several thousand people came out Tuesday to celebrate the completion of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
The expanded facility more than doubled the size of the building that first opened in May of 2001.
The expansion was part of the Music City Center and Omni Hotel projects. The Hall of Fame is connected to the hotel.
"You know I didn't come during much of the building phase, I didn't want to see it until it was done. It's magnificent. So proud," said Hall of Fame and Museum board president Vince Gill.
He, along with Ricky Skaggs, Lee Ann Womack, The McCrary Sisters and The Valentine's all performed at a grand opening celebration in the building's new event space overlooking the downtown Nashville skyline.
Many areas of the expansion opened five months ago, but 10,000 square feet of exhibit space just recently opened. It houses the museum's contemporary country music interactive exhibit.
Several friends visiting Nashville sang in a recording studio that is housed in a replica of Taylor Swift's tour bus.
"It has a broad range of everything, and it's super cool. This reminds me of a museum in Seattle that we went to that was interactive with music that was really cool," said Jessica Johnson who was visiting from California.
The expansion is expected to raise the organization's operating budget from $20 million a year, to nearly $34 million.
The director said this expansion will keep the institution relevant for country music fans.
"If you can increase your capacity, that gives you the opportunity to build on what you're doing more, and build more constituency," Kyle Young explained. "I think it allows us to expand our cultural footprint, and energize the community in meaningful ways."
The expansion also included a new 800 seat theater, the relocation of the iconic Hatch Show Print, an expanded gift shop and large event hall.