News Column

Dollywood Plans $300 Million Expansion

Aug 22, 2013

Country music legend and Sevier County native Dolly Parton told a packed auditorium at Dollywood Wednesday that she plans to invest more than $300 million in her community over the next 10 years as she expands her Dollywood properties.

A 300-room resort and a new roller-coaster that launches cars forward and then backward are planned, but more additions to the theme parks are in the works, she said.

"This is a very special day because my dreams are about to come true," she told those who filled the Showstreet Palace.

The goal, she said, is "to make this area and Dollywood one of the biggest and most popular destinations in the whole country."

In a News Sentinel interview after the event, Parton indicated her ultimate vision for Dollywood might include other theme parks around the country or the globe. Parton said she has had inquiries from other countries about opening Dollywood parks there.

"We have talked about that and we very well might do that," she said. "It's not in our plans for the time being but it is a possibility. But we will always be growing," she said.

The plan for the next 10 years focuses solidly on Pigeon Forge, however.

First up would be the Fire Chaser roller coaster, set to open in March. The 12-story coaster would be the nation's first dual-launch coaster, according to a Dollywood news release. First, it would send cars forward from its launching station. Then, at the end, it would send them backward to the station. It is billed as a family-friendly coaster with a 39-inch minimum height requirement that would allow most members of a family to ride together.

"It's exciting and thrilling but it's not scary," she said.

Parton said family fun will be the theme for the resort and other Dollywood additions. The DreamMore Resort, slated to open in summer 2015, will have a variety of accommodations including a 2,200 square-foot Dolly's Suite Dreams celebrity suite. There will be an indoor and outdoor pool complex, a spa and a full-service farmhouse-style restaurant that features a wraparound veranda with views of the pool and surrounding mountains. An amphitheater is planned as well as outdoor areas complete with fire pits, swings and hammocks.

There will also be features such as porches, fire pits, storytelling spots and others to encourage families to spend time together.

"Everybody is so disconnected as families," she said. "Either they are going to tweet somebody or they are on Facebook, or so caught up in social media. It's fine that we've got all that, but we can communicate but we can't connect."

Parton said she has always been a big dreamer who hoped to do more for her home in the Smoky Mountains.

The 10-year investment is projected to create 2,500 jobs and generate an additional $150 million annually to the local economy. As she announced her plans, Parton was joined by Gov. Bill Haslam, state Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker and Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster, all of whom praised the impact the Dollywood expansion would have on the local economy.

"When someone invests $300 million in your state, it's a big deal," Haslam said. "Every year, more than 3 million people come here," he said of Dollywood.

Craig Ross, Dollywood company president, said the $300 million investment is more than the company has invested in its Pigeon Forge properties in the 28 years since Dollywood was founded.

Ross said about half of the $300 million will be spent on the resort and the other half on other rides and amenities, some of which have yet to be determined. About this time each year, the company will announce what additions it plans to make to its properties in the coming year, he said.

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(c)2013 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)

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Source: Copyright Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) 2013