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Fall Creek Falls Hotel Demo Delayed

Shuttered lodge complex still scheduled for razing by end of year

The anticipated date for demolition to commence on the old inn at Fall Creek Falls State Park has been pushed back to at least the end of this month, according to state officials overseeing the project.

The plan had been for crews to start dismantling the 1970s-era hotel and conference complex by next week. But word now is that, because “contract negotiations took a little longer than expected,” the project won’t begin until the end of this month.

A spokesman for Tennessee’s Department of General Services said this week that work teams will likely begin removing the old hotel’s interior by the beginning of September, a process that should take about three weeks. When that’s complete, they’ll start tearing the buildings down.

“At present we expect it will take a little less than two months to tear down the structure, haul off materials, and secure the site,” Dave Roberson, director of communications for the department, wrote in an email to Center Hill Sun.

Roberson said the Brentwood-based company Bell and Associates Construction is handling the project.

The state’s plan is to build a new hotel and open it sometime in 2020.

The total cost of the project is expected to run close to $30 million. The old lodge ceased functioning in April.

Fall Creek Falls Park Manager Jacob Young said there’s been a noticeable falloff in visitation to the park since the inn and restaurant shut down, especially during weekdays. He said staff are expecting the typically busy autumn to fade into winter off-season faster than normal as a result as well.

Check back with Center Hill Sun for updates.

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Design for New Inn at Fall Creek Falls Unveiled

State aiming for August demolition

The public has gotten a first glance at what the proposed new hotel at Fall Creek Falls State Park is supposed to look like when it’s completed.

Architectural renderings of the new facility were released this summer by the agency that oversees state parks management.

The new inn is intended to summon a more hospitable ambience than the old, which was built back in the early 1970s in a sullen, concrete-gray style known as “Brutalism.” Reminiscent of mid-20th Century Soviet-bloc architecture, the old hotel emitted a distinctly drab spirit. A recurring observation was that it more resembled something like a psychiatric hospital or penal institution than a congenial lakeside retreat befitting the sublime character of Tennessee’s most popular state park.

Lodged Where?

The design drawings for the new inn envisage the new structure integrated more harmoniously into the wooded, water’s edge habitat on the gently sloping banks of Fall Creek Lake.

The facades on the new 95,000-square foot inn will consist of “timber framing, stonework details and extended height windows,” which will complement “the natural setting of the park,” according to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation press release from June 21.

The finished lodge will have three floors and contain “various indoor and outdoor gathering areas including larger meeting and conference space.” The grounds will include “paths connecting the facility to existing recreational trails.”

Construction is anticipated to begin later this year and finish by the summer of 2020.

The new restaurant will serve up an expansive vista of Fall Creek Lake, and guests can dine on a scenic terrace overlooking the water if they chose. The building will also include a bar and lounge area, as well as banquet spaces to facilitate conferences and group retreats.

“The inn is designed to provide spacious views of the lake and of the park’s natural forest that will evoke long-lasting memories for visitors,” said an executive from Earl Swensson Associates, a Nashville-based firm overseeing the project.

But first there’s the matter of demolishing the old building, which although it closed for good on April 1, is still standing as of this writing.

“Right now the schedule calls for demolition to begin August 15, and to be complete by October 31,” David Roberson, spokesman for Tennessee’s Department of General Services, said in a July 10 email.

“The Fall Creek Falls project, which includes demolition of the existing inn, has been in the planning and design phase since May,” he wrote. “A contract for the project is now being finalized, and once it is signed the general contractor will hire various subcontractors, which will include a subcontractor to handle the demolition.”

“Since the contract is not complete yet, we don’t know final cost, nor the cost of the various elements of the contract, such as the demolition,” Roberson added.

Costs Climbing

The total estimated price tag of the demolition-and-rebuild project is now $29.4 million. However, that number has been trending upwards over the past couple years since the Haslam administration first announced plans to tear down and replace the old hotel.

Initial projections called for spending $20-$22 million on the project. Last year the figure was revised to $25 million. The latest, nearly $30 million price tag, was put forward by TDEC in the spring.

“The estimated overall cost of the inn project, which has been in the works for nearly three years, has varied over the course of that time based on a variety of circumstances and variables,” TDEC communications director Eric Ward wrote in an email to Center Hill Sun.

The Haslam administration’s initial proposal was to outsource the new facility’s operations to an outside concessionaire, an idea that drew vocal opposition both locally and in the Tennessee Legislature. But the idea only fell fully flat when in 2017 not a single company offered a bid on running the new hotel and conference center.

Gone for now are both the outsourcing proposal and any expectation that the state will get help footing front-end design and development costs on the new facility.

Ward said “the project was originally part of a potential concessionaire agreement, where a private concessionaire would have theoretically shouldered some of the cost, thereby reducing the cost to the taxpayer.”

“Other factors that have influenced the estimated cost over time include inflation and the cost of demolition and construction materials,” the TDEC spokesman added.

Local Economic Benefits Anticipated

The state has forecast the new inn, restaurant and conference center will generate $278,000 annually in local taxes, which is $90,000 a year more than the old facility.

“In the short term, construction activity will bring an estimated $14.7 million in construction-related taxable spending to the area along with more than 100 construction jobs,” according to TDEC’s June 21 news release.

The 26,000-acre Fall Creek Falls park straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe Counties, both of which are considered economically “distressed” by state and federal agencies.

TDEC officials say the old hotel was running occupancy rates below 40 percent. The average hotel occupancy-rate nationally was 65.9 percent in 2017, according to industry estimates used by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. In the Southeastern United States, the 2016 average was 61.4 percent and in Tennessee it was 64.5 percent.

TN Tourism Boom Continues

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, Aug. 23, 2017:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Kevin Triplett announced today Tennessee tourism’s direct domestic and international travel expenditures reached an all-time record high of $19.3 billion in 2016, up 4.7 percent over the previous year, as reported by the U.S. Travel Association.

For the 11th consecutive year, tourism topped $1 billion in state and local sales tax revenue, reaching $1.7 billion. That marks a 6.7 percent increase over 2015, higher than the national growth of travel related state tax revenues. Tourism generated 176,500 jobs for Tennesseans, a 3.3 percent growth year over year.

“More people from around the world continue to visit Tennessee each year,” Haslam said. “The $1.7 billion in sales tax revenue and job growth are good news for everyone in Tennessee. The hard work of the tourism industry, led by the Department of Tourist Development and Tennessee Tourism Committee, continues to produce record results and dedication to boost Tennessee’s economy.”

Five counties exceeded one billion in travel expenditures including Davidson ($5.996 billion), Shelby ($3.335 billion), Sevier ($2.217 billion), Hamilton ($1.060 billion), and Knox ($1.056 billion). All 95 counties saw more than $1 million in direct travel expenditures in the economic impact of tourism and 19 counties saw more than $100 million.

“The economic impact growth of the tourism industry is a result of guests from around the world discovering everything that makes Tennessee ‘The Soundtrack of America,’” Commissioner Triplett said. “It starts with what we have; the music, history, culture and experiences. It is enhanced by how those things are managed. The authenticity and Southern hospitality from our communities and partners create an environment for our guests in a way not only that helps them enjoy their stay but motivates them to return. These numbers are a reflection of Tennessee becoming a destination of choice. But a critical component of this is they do not include the staggering capital investments being made by tourism partners across the state to enhance the experience.”

In another record previously announced during National Travel and Tourism Week, 110 million people visited the state in 2016, up 4.4 percent from 2015, as reported by D.K Shifflet & Associates. An increase in leisure travelers also led to a jump in overnight stays. Tennessee places among the Top 10 travel destinations in the U.S. for the third consecutive year and is considered a top retirement destination.

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development doesn’t achieve these numbers alone. In 2011 Gov. Haslam appointed the Tennessee Tourism Committee, made up of tourism leaders in both the public and private sectors. The Committee is chaired by Colin Reed, Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc. The department also works with local convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce and city and county leaders in all 95 counties to draw people to the state.

For more information, contact Jill Kilgore, public relations media manager for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, at 615-927-1320 or by email at Jill.Kilgore@tn.gov.

For a complete breakdown of the 2016 Economic Impact for county by county in Tennessee, click here.

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Tennessee is the birthplace of the blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, soul, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll— delivering an unparalleled experience of beauty, history, and family adventure, infused with music, that creates a vacation that is the “Soundtrack of America. Made in Tennessee.”

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