Tribe approves $35 million for Sevier County project
Tribal Council voted 11-1 this month to allocate an additional $35 million toward a Kituwah LLC development project along Interstate 40 in Sevier County, Tennessee.
“The capital allocation will be used for the purposes of creating various businesses, which are projected to earn rates of return from 14 to 20 percent,” reads the resolution authorizing the allocation.
The day prior to the March 11 Council session, Council member and Kituwah LLC leaders held a closed-door meeting to discuss particulars of the project. During that meeting, Kituwah CEO Mark Hubble reminded Council March 11, they discussed six different projects. The $35 million would provide funding for three or four of those projects.
“On the initial cost of the purchase, the businesses the tribe and Kituwah LLC will own outright or through partnerships will have a value in five years, once stabilized, exceeding 50 million,” the resolution reads. “The tribe will receive local, state and federal government incentives totaling between $13.5 million and $60 million.”
The resolution seeking the funding was not on the agenda and was instead introduced as an emergency resolution. It was submitted by the Office of the Principal Chief and the Kituwah Economic Development Board.
“The second-largest project on there, we’re having a timing issue and it has to do with an alternate site they’re looking at,” Hubble said. “That’s why we’re asking for this so quickly.”
The company in question has not yet committed to the Sevier County site and is considering another location as well. However, Hubble said, the Sevier County site appears to be superior to the other location under consideration, and he believes he can get the tenant to commit as long as he can tell them that funding for the project is secure.
Representatives of tribal, city and county government break ground on the project Tuesday, Nov. 10. Holly Kays photo
The tribe purchased the 200-acre property along the Exit 407 mark of I-40 for $13.5 million following approval from Tribal Council in July 2019, tasking Kituwah LLC with deciding how best to develop it. The tribe also owns 122 acres on the north side of the highway, which it bought in February 2019 for $7.5 million.
In October 2020, Council approved an additional $25 million to help with development costs on the 200-acre property. Ground broke on the project Nov. 10, and Kituwah revealed its vision for the first phase of the project, which includes about 60 acres. Currently referred to as the Roadside District, the section will be developed around the theme of the classic American road trip, including both nostalgic and modern elements of that tradition. Kituwah is working with Knoxville-based OE Experiences to seek out development partners and expects to welcome visitors in 2022.
While no partners have yet been announced publicly, Hubble has been in serious collaboration with multiple entities for some time now.
Some projects under consideration for the Sevier County property could eventually be replicated in Cherokee. A potential inflatable amusement park is an example of that.
“Some of those projects, a different version of them, depending on the land, could then be put over here,” he said. “We went and worked out some of the kinks on that site first, because we have the land and it’s flat.”
The property could also be used for cross-promotional purposes. The development might include a visitor center to direct people over the mountain to Cherokee, and the five billboard permits that come with the property could be used to promote activities in Cherokee as well as on the Tennessee property itself.
The measure passed with all Council members save Wolfetown Representative Bo Crowe in favor, and Sneed has ratified it.