By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
KODAK, Tenn. – The world’s largest Buc-ee’s convenience store opened in Sevier County, Tenn. on the morning of Monday, June 26. The 74,000 square foot store contains 120 fuel stations and is located at The 407 – Gateway to Adventure property operated by the Kituwah, LLC, an enterprise of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).
EBCI Tribal Council Chairman Richard French told the crowd gathered for Monday’s ribbon-cutting event, “We are happy to be working with such a great group of people and we look forward to doing a lot more work here, developing this project. We want to thank Beaver (Aplin), also, for bringing Buc-ee’s here. It was even on the Today Show this morning – the largest Buc-ee’s opening in Sevierville, Tenn. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but not today, it’s in Sevierville.”
“We’re looking forward to a lot more adventures and working with everyone here in Tennessee, and looking for more development here.”
Chairman French; Cameron Cooper, Kituwah, LLC real estate and special projects; and Christopher McCoy, global president of Kituwah Marketing and director of brand management; gave gifts on behalf of the EBCI to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), and U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
Chairman French concluded his remarks by saying, “This is a great day for the Eastern Band, but it’s also a great day for the state of Tennessee and we look forward to a lot more ribbon cuttings coming along.”
Gov. Lee commented, “People in this country have decided that this is one of the greatest places in the country. It’s why we have so many people moving into this state. It’s why we have so many people visiting this state. The fastest-growing tourism state in the country related to dollars spent by outsiders. Companies moving from all over America into Tennessee. People look around this country and they see a lot of things. But, when they look to Tennessee, they see a place that reminds them that America hasn’t lost her way.”
“When you have your U.S. Senators, U.S. Congressmen, when you have the leadership and the members of the House, and the Senate, and the General Assembly…County Mayors, the Tribal leaders, it’s representative of how big of a deal this really is. As the Governor of this state, whenever I get to see the people of Tennessee acknowledge the greatness of this state, it reminds me of the honor that we have here. I’m very fortunate to be in this spot, and we are very fortunate to be Tennesseans.”
Arch “Beaver” Aplin III, founder of Buc-ee’s, said, “This has been a long time coming. I just want to start by telling everyone here that everyone at Buc-ee’s is so humbled for the welcome and the way you guys show up, the way you attend, the way you love what we do. It makes my partner and I feel really, really good for people to love what we do. There has been people here from the wee hours of the morning. There’s been people who’ve traveled from long, long ways to come for a store opening. Thank you for that.”
He said they’ve already hired 400 full-time positions at the store. “I highly suspect that this will very well be the busiest store that we’ve ever built, which is why we designed a new prototype. We’ve never designed it before. It’s about 45 percent bigger than a normal store that we build. And we thought that this was the location to build it. So, we designed it and we built it. The one thing that didn’t occur to me is how many of my Texas friends I would make mad by doing that. So, just as a personal note, I had to fix that. We have designed and built a store slightly larger in Luling, Texas. But, this entire design was created by how fabulous this community is, the tourism that the Governor mentioned. It’s just incredible so we’re excited about being at the gateway of the nation’s busiest national park. When you think about that a minute, that’s a really, really big thing.”
Aplin finished his remarks with, “This is going to be a phenomenal location for a long, long time to come.”
Several tourism officials spoke about the expected impact Buc-ee’s will have to the area.
Brenda McCroskey, Sevierville Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer, noted, “What a great day to celebrate the grand opening of the world’s largest Buc-ee’s, right here in Sevierville, Tenn.!”
“We are so pleased that Buc-ee’s has chosen to make this significant investment in our business community. You know, the excitement and interest that Buc-ee’s creates is palpable.”
She added, “It’s truly a fan-favorite and something we know will be wildly successful here in Sevierville. Buc-ee’s will be the first of many ribbon cuttings that we will have on this property. We look forward to the continued development of The 407 – Gateway to Adventure.”
Mark Ezell, Tennessee Commissioner of Tourism, said, “What an exciting day. This is a big deal. To have the blessing of our federal leaders…getting to work with them and promote tourism is a real thrill for me because they get tourism.”
“We may not stay the largest sized store, but we’re probably going to stay the most attended store. We’ve got the most attended National Park in America. They set records because they know how to take care of visitors.”
Mark Hubble, Kituwah, LLC chief executive officer, told the One Feather early on in the project, “We paid for the development of the property. Buc-ee’s is 100 percent paying for their build. They will invest somewhere between $35 and $50 million in a Buc-ee’s build. We are leasing the ground to them, and we’re providing the pad site with infrastructure to that pad site. Once it hits the pad site, the rest of it is Buc-ee’s.”
Hubble related that Kituwah, LLC put in $25 million in Phase I infrastructure for The 407 – Gateway to Adventure project. Part of that includes the site for Buc-ee’s as well as work on the main road, water, and electrical needs for the rest of the development.
Buc-ee’s is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.