The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) plans to develop a new “experiential destination” at Sevierville’s busy 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 land, purchased last year for $13.5 million, represents a major project for the business development entity known as Kituwah, LLC, which owns the land. The land is located between the major metropolitan areas of Knoxville, Tenn. and Asheville, NC just off Interstate 40 at the Sevierville exit.
“Our tribe established Kituwah, LLC to move at the pace of business and to diversify our economic interests in areas other than gaming,” said Principal Chief Richard Sneed. “We are pleased with the strong interest in the property and look forward to strengthening partnerships with Sevier County.”
Kituwah CEO Mark Hubble, who has helped other tribes nationally to build tribal-owned businesses for the benefit of enrolled members, 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. Matthew Cross, of OE Experience explained, “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, the organizers say it will feature a common theme or narrative that heightens the experience for visitors. Tourists and shoppers will have dining options, unique shopping experiences, and entertainment attractions that fit the overall theme and vision.
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 continues to challenge future planning efforts nationwide, confidence remains cautiously optimistic for the development. Cross said, “We are keeping our expectations managed about the future. 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, Chair of the Kituwah Economic Development Board said, “We are moving quickly in plan development and key tenant acquisition.”
OE Experiences is currently collecting bids and proposals from interested parties to codevelop portions of the site. SIG Real Estate’s Keith Widmer is acting as broker on the development and accepting applications for lease.