“An experience for the ages”: 407 Project holds latest groundbreaking

by Apr 13, 2023NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Reporter


KODAK, Tenn. – The next piece is in place for the 407: Gateway to Adventure project in Sevier County, Tennessee. Smoky Gap is the name of the newest attraction to the property owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It is set to be completed by 2025, and an official groundbreaking was held on site on the morning of Tuesday, April 11.

Officials break ground on the new Smoky Gap attraction, part of the 407 Project in Sevier County, Tenn. on the morning of Tuesday, April 11. Shown, left to right, are Painttown Rep. Michael Stamper, Wolftown Rep. Andrew Oocumma, Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke, Vice Chief Alan B Ensley, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed, Mayor of Sevierville Robbie Fox, Vice Mayor of Sevierville Bryan McCarter, and Kituwah, LLC CEO Mark Hubble. (JONAH LOSSIAH/One Feather photos)

Kituwah, LLC has been tasked with leading this project. 2023 is a big year, as well, with the long-awaited Buc-ee’s set to open in the coming months. Smoky Gap marks the third groundbreaking held on the property, with more excepted within the next year.

This piece of the puzzle will be the foundation for Kituwah’s international partnership with French entertainment company Puy du Fou. The Cherokee One Feather detailed this partnership in an earlier article. The EBCI is funding a $75 million project to build a unique and immersive experience that will detail stories from World War I.

Mark Hubble, chief executive officer of Kituwah, LLC, said that this is going to be world class feature for the property.

“The best experiences that a tourist can have that are unique and one-of-a-kind. In a manner that they just won’t be able to see anywhere else. The technology and the ability to deliver the things that we were talking about. The taste of salt water on a trans-Atlantic voyage. The smell of gunpowder. The immersive experience of what can happen, that technology didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Now, you’ll be able to feel the waves as you walk through,” said Hubble.

While Puy du Fou will be the centerpiece, the entire development is set to bring a new experience to the area.

“We have LOIs (Letters of Intent) for about 100,000 square feet of retail space along here. They’re all themed. They’re similar to things you can get elsewhere, but they’re not exactly the same. One of the things that this particular development can bring that is difficult to get as you move further into the Smokies is the entertainment at night. After 6 p.m., it’ll bring a new demographic. Because you’re only 25 minutes from Knoxville, which is a college town.”

These ideas were echoed by Robbie Fox, mayor of the City of Sevierville.

The photo shows the site for the upcoming Smoky Gap attraction part of the 407 Project.

“I’m excited for what this entire development will mean to the City of Sevierville and the region in terms of the entertainment development that it will provide to our visitors. It will also provide jobs to the people of Sevierville, Sevier County, and the contiguous counties. It will generate tax dollars for the city of Sevierville…it will also generate tax dollars for the region, we think that’s important as well. It also gives visitors another reason to come here and spend an extra night. Smoky Gap development will also provide the 407 area with a nighttime entertainment component, which the city of Sevierville does not have currently,” said Mayor Fox.

The Kituwah, LLC’s main partner in this 407 Project is OE Experiences, a company based out of Knoxville. Matthew Cross, chief executive officer of OE Experiences, also spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“In our business, there are an abundance of ideas, concepts, and visions. Most of them never materialize. But 407 Gateway to Adventure is different. As you look around to today, you can see that this is real. Two years ago, we stood in front of you and explained what the vision and the plan was for this property. Today, everything we talked about is coming to life. Today, we unveil an important part of the 407 Gateway to Adventure. We’re breaking ground on Smoky Gap, a unique and exciting entertainment district within the 407. This is where guests will dine, sleep, shop, and be entertained. This is where our anchor tenant, Puy du Fou, is in development for its first location in the United States. It promises to be an experience for the ages.”

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed spoke to how this opportunity is another example of diversifying the EBCI’s economy.

“When I was first elected to office, my team and I, that was really the directive. We are going to diversify the Tribe’s revenue streams. I think at the time I took office; we had three revenue streams. Once this is up and running, I think we’ll be at seven. So, really, we’ve moved mountains on this one too,” said Chief Sneed.

“It’s not an easy task. I have to give credit where credit is due for Tribal Council to approve all the different generators that we have produced in the last six or seven years. It matters more than any time in history because gaming is moving quickly. In North Carolina, sports betting has passed in the House. It’s probably going to come to fruition this year. North Carolina is looking very seriously at commercial gaming state-wide, which would without a doubt have an impact on our overall revenue.”

Chief Sneed said that he’s happy with the work Kituwah, LLC has accomplished as the lead for this initiative. He said that Tribal leadership is in constant communication with Kituwah, LLC, but that they also must trust them to get the job done.

A photo, taken on the morning of Tuesday, April 11, shows the progress at the new Buc-ee’s.

“The important piece is to be able to move faster than the speed of government. We have to move at the speed of business, and that’s why it was imperative that we get the project in the heads of Kituwah, LLC,” said Chief Sneed.

Hubble said that this is just the next step in an enormous project. He also said that the next big piece they want for the property would bring in their newest business partnership – Sports Illustrated Resorts. Kituwah, LLC announced this new $316 million investment at the beginning of the year, and Hubble is hoping that they can bring SI Resorts to Tennessee.

“We’ve learned enough now about how to build the resorts and build the condominium and resort projects – an entire community – that we can do that efficiently and effectively. That’ll be a huge, huge resort without as much upfront cost as you might see in a half-a-billion-dollar resort.”

Smoky Gap is set to open in 2025. Buc-ee’s hopes to have a ribbon cut by June. Sports Illustrated Resorts might be on the horizon. The dominoes are starting to fall in Sevier County.