The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is poised to acquire nearly 200 acres of prime East Tennessee real estate with plans for a major commercial development.
Principal Chief Richard Sneed, in an interview in his office this month in Cherokee, North Carolina, revealed the tribe’s plans to acquire 198 acres at Interstate 40’s Exit 407, the gateway to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“On our side of I-40, at Exit 407, we will close Jan. 31 on a 198-acre parcel that is all road frontage,” Sneed said. “The Great Recession was the demise of that development; when the economy tanked, they lost it, and the banks foreclosed on it.”
Sneed is referring to the Dumplin Creek development, 198 acres with one mile of road frontage along the eastbound side of I-40. The asking price, according to a search of commercial real estate websites, is $13.5 million or $68,000 per acre.
Between 10 million and 12 million vehicles per year use Exit 407 to access state Route 66 and the tourist towns of Sevier County, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“My plan is not to sit on it just in case; we’re going to develop it,” Sneed said. “We [Eastern Band] have our new Kituwah LLC [limited liability company], which we established when I got into office. It’s a separate business arm to do business on behalf of the tribe. Once we close on that property, it will be conveyed to the new LLC to develop.”
Sneed said many options are on the table, but they have an overall vision.
“They’re [Kituwah LLC] looking at putting a resort there, putting several branded hotels — they’ve kicked around the idea of a retail outlet. All of that is still in the planning stages,” Sneed said. “We thought of putting a hotel with convention space with a resort. Honestly, if Tennessee ever does get gaming and you’ve got convention space, you could flip that into gaming space pretty quick.”
For Tennessee to permit commercial gaming, it would require approvals by the General Assembly in two consecutive years, a signature by the governor and then a public referendum of state residents. Sneed calls it a “heavy lift.”
“From my perspective, I saw it as an opportunity to have a footprint in the area. The governor signed the sports betting bill, but Tennessee’s state Constitution expressly forbids gambling, so, for Tennessee, it will be a heavy lift if it ever happens,” he said.
Last year, the tribe spent $7.6 million to acquire about 122 acres on the north side of Exit 407 near the Tennessee Smokies Minor League Baseball stadium.
“For that particular site, we’re thinking workforce housing,” Sneed said. “I met with the mayor and the county commissioners of Sevier County, and they gave me some data points, and they had a housing census done, and they’re at 98% occupancy of available units up there.
“We’re looking at possibly doing some tax credit housing over there. I don’t know if we will be the developer or we would do a land lease to somebody. … We also kicked around doing a retirement community for that parcel.”