This article was written and published by Cherokee Phoenix on September 10, 2020. To access the original copy of this article please visit https://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/Index/165265.
According to a Sept. 2 press release, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians plans to develop an “experiential destination” at Sevierville’s busy Interstate 40 Exit 407.
The 200-acre mixed-use development will serve as a gateway and “first stop” for more than 11 million tourists who travel through Sevier County to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park every year, the EBCI release states.
The land, purchased in 2019 for $13.5 million, represents a major project for the business development entity known as Kituwah LLC, which owns the land, the release states.
“Our tribe established Kituwah LLC to move at the pace of business and to diversify our economic interests in areas other than gaming,” EBCI Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said. “We are pleased with the strong interest in the property and look forward to strengthening partnerships with Sevier County.”
According to the release, Kituwah LLC CEO Mark Hubble, who has helped other tribes nationally to build tribal-owned businesses for the benefit of enrolled citizens, sees this development as a rare opportunity. “This land is strategically located and has the benefit of significant infrastructure investment from prior development attempts,” Hubble said.
OE Experiences, a Knoxville-based firm, has been retained to identify the highest and best use of the development and to seek out development partners, the release states.
In the release, Matthew Cross, of OE Experience, said, “This will be a major investment by the EBCI into our local community. It is a unique opportunity for the tribe to form strategic partnerships in one of the best tourism markets in the country. Millions of tourists drive by this location every year on their way to the national park, and they will stop here first.”
While the vision for the development remains flexible, organizers say it will feature a common theme or narrative that heightens the experience for visitors, according to the release.
Tourists and shoppers will have dining options, shopping experiences and entertainment attractions that fit the overall theme and vision, the release states.
It also states the site’s location allows easy access from nearby Knoxville, something the developers are counting on to supplement daily visits and labor options.
“We know Knoxville residents will visit this location for a unique date night, dining experience, shopping trip, or an easy weekend getaway,” Cross said. “It’s merely a 20-minute drive from Knoxville and a little over an hour from Asheville.”
As the COVID pandemic challenges future planning efforts nationwide, confidence remains cautiously optimistic for the development, the release states.
“We are keeping our expectations managed about the future,” Cross said. “It is too early to know how exactly the virus will affect us long-term. However, we are seeing that most people feel safer in their car than on an airplane. That is great news for this market, as we are one of the most drivable destinations in the country with most of the nation’s population east of the Mississippi River living within a one-day-drive of the Smoky Mountains.”
Chrissy Arch, Kituwah Economic Development Board chairwoman said, “We are moving quickly in plan development and key tenant acquisition.”
OE Experiences is collecting bids and proposals from interested parties to co-develop portions of the site, the release states.