SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE)- The future of The 407: Gateway to Adventure tourism development in Sevier County is taking shape with the groundbreaking on a new entertainment district and plans to create a “gamechanger” overnight resort.
Tuesday’s groundbreaking marked the start of construction of Smoky Gap, an early 1900s-themed entertainment district offering entertainment, shopping, and restaurants. However, developers are already thinking of the next phase development at the 200-acre site.
“We’re breaking ground on Smoky Gap. A unique and exciting entertainment district within the 407,” said Matthew Cross, CEO of development company OE Experiences. “This is where guests will dine, sleep, shop, and be entertained.”
The 407: Gateway to Adventure will officially open this summer with opening of the massive Buc-ee’s Travel Center. Phase One of the development will continue with construction of Smoky Gap and a Courtyard Marriott hotel.
Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the group that owns the 200+ acres of land that is being developed, said this is just the start.
“Buc-ee’s is definitely an anchor tenant that you want to draw people in here,” Sneed explained. “Once we get people on the property and they see everything else we have going here, this will be a premier destination in Sevier County.”
Smoky Gap will also feature the first U.S. attraction from international theme park company Puy Du Fou, a history-inspired, immersive attraction that will tell the story of the Cherokee in World War I. Cross said a details on a groundbreaking on that attraction will be announced later this year.
“It’s [Smoky Gap] really unlike anything we’ve seen in this market. I would call it an entertainment district. The emphasis is on experiences and moments, “Cross said. “It’s set in a great World War era, pre and post, and it’s a place with so much living history. You might see moments in history erupt out around you that you get to experience and partake in.”
With the area expected to attract some of the millions of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year, talks are ongoing to accommodate the increase in traffic by creating a new highway interchange at Exit 408.
“We’ve been working with the city, the county, with TDOT, and with the Federal Highway Administration about the need and the justification for an interchange for nearly three years,” Cross said. “We’re making great progress. Obviously, when Buc-ee’s opens it’s going to have a dramatic impact on the area. We’re doing everything we can to mitigate that but the real solution is obviously going to be a new exit that will serve not just our development, but the entire county.”
The Smoky Gap District is expected to open in 2025. Phase One of the development is expected to create 500 jobs.
Developers are already looking ahead to the second development phase to build a resort at the site. Kituwah LLC, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s business development company, recently became the largest equity holder of the Sports Illustrated Resorts Brand. Kituwah LLC Ceo Mark Hubble hinted at a sports-themed resort in the site’s future on Tuesday.
“We have a number of exciting announcements that are coming this year, including the groundbreaking for Puy Du Fou as well as what we’re calling our Phase Two overnight destination resort,” Cross said. “It’s going to be a gamechanger for this area whose purpose is to convert The 407 into an overnight destination.”