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The Boss: Once a teenage member of the Johnny Cash fan club, Nashville tourism is now his business

22-Sep-2017


 

From the Nashville Business Journal,

Sept. 22 2017

 


 

 

Eleanor Kennedy  – Staff Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

 

Bill Miller's first trip to Nashville was memorable, to say the least. As a teenage member of the Johnny Cash fan club, he flew out – solo – from California and got to meet the Man in Black himself. Today, Miller helms Icon Entertainment Group, a company that's brought Cash's memory alive through a downtown museum, and is steadily growing his holdings in the area. Most recently, he bought the majority interest in Skull's Rainbow Room, and he's teased plans for an additional celebrity-focused ventured on Third Avenue South.

 

Tell me about the decision to buy the stake in Skull’s.

 Shortly after they opened, my youngest son Jordan … was living here alone, and he was living the Banner Lofts, which is right across the street from Printers Alley. … I had not been to Printers Alley since I was probably 14. … We went back not knowing what to expect. … [My wife] Shannon and I went for cocktails one night and were really impressed by, not just the venue, but I’d say more so the people. … We really love things that are unique, and that you won’t find anywhere else. And especially things that have a great history. … It was the perfect storm, it had everything we like.

 

How have things gone in the early days at the Patsy Cline Museum?

  Very good. Museums, as you know, are unique animals. And that’s why most museums spend 24 hours a day raising money. We do all of our museums privately because we want to be able to control the guest experience, we want to be able to think fast on our feet if we need to. … I would say that Patsy is doing probably 40 to 60 percent of what [the Johhny Cash Museum] did at the same time in its infancy, which is a really good sign. … Our museums, though, we start not as money-making ventures; we start them because we have a passion for the subject of the museum.

 

Where are you from originally?

Southern California. 

 

 

And how’d you get connected to Nashville?

I was a fan of Johnny Cash. I discovered Johnny Cash when I was 9 years old, many, many many years ago. … At the time I discovered Johnny Cash it was the time when he really had reached the apex of his career. … Johnny Cash was everywhere. … And he just represented probably the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my entire life. … So I joined the fan club. Four years later I was promoted to the position of teen editor of the fan club newsletter, that’s where my journalistic career started. And then in 1974, my parents put me on a plane and sent me to Nashville, alone, to come to Fan Fair. And at that time it was held at the Municipal Auditorium. So I got here and — my parents would be arrested today for doing this — took a cab to the Ramada Inn, checked in at the Ramada Inn, and then hooked up with the fan club. … Got to see Nashville, loved Nashville. … And spent the week here and went back, but it left a huge impression. … That’s sort of how it started. And as time went on I actually got to know Johnny … which led to that driving determination to honor him here in the city where he deserved to be honored.

 

What do you think downtown has too much of, and what does it need more of?

I think downtown needs more experiential venues. And I think that’s what we’ve been successful in delivering. … Anybody can open a bar. I have never in my life had a desire to open a bar. But when we saw that [409 Broadway] was available, which is as prime a location as you can get in Nashville, I wanted to do something there that was an attraction. Now, when you look at the prices of real estate on Broadway as compared to what we paid for [119 Third Ave. S.] there’s literally only one choice, you’ve got to do food and beverage, and it’s got to be high volume, to cover the mortgage. … I knew had to do a food and beverage-oriented attraction. And I wanted it to be an attraction — when you walk in [Nudie’s Honky Tonk] the first thing you see is that $400,000 Cadillac hanging on the wall. It all starts there.

 

 

How do you divide your time between your different projects? What’s a typical week look like?

I’m probably pretty manic, I would say. I think whoever gets in my office first and jumps me about a particular business or topic or subject. I hate meeting. There’s one thing I despise is meetings. If I do meet we like to do lunch meetings or cocktail meetings. … Dividing the time, once I conceive of something, then we go to the conceptualizing, visually, experientially, then we go to the construction mode and I step back from that. Then once the bones are constructed, Shannon and I come in in a big way and do the aesthetics. With the Patsy Cline Museum, with Johnny Cash, we designed everything, wrote every word, chose every color. So we step out during the physical construction aspect, come back in when it’s time to decorate, and then we oversee the first couple months living in those businesses, and then we turn them over to the respective managers. … I am anything but a micro-manager because we’ve really been blessed with some fantastic people who I trust.

 

Other than something that you own, what’s your favorite place to eat in downtown Nashville?

We love Kayne Prime because they go all out with presentation. They’re extremely creative. … You walk in, and even though it’s a pricey place, it’s very upscale, you can walk in [wearing] jeans [and] a short-sleeved T-shirt and feel like a million dollars. We do lunch at Merchants frequently. … And then we love Ruth’s Chris [Steakhouse], too. … It’s hard, that’s why I’m on a diet now. And of course Tom Morales is a good friend of ours. I don’t think anybody runs a better business than Tom. I really admire Tom and look up to Tom, with The Southern, and Acme. … I can tell you that once you move to Nashville, you should be on a perpetual diet. The temptation is just too great.

 

 

 

Age: 57

Title: CEO

Company: Icon Entertainment Group

Address: 119 Third Avenue South, Nashville 37201

Web: johnnycashmuseum.com, patsymuseum.com, nudieshonkytonk.com and skullsrainbowroom.com

Employees: 200

Hometown: Eagle Mountain, Calif.

Education: High school


 



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