Dollywood announces $300 million expansion

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 07:40 AM

In what was promoted as the biggest news in Dollywood history, Dolly Parton Wednesday announced a $300 million investment in the entertainment complex.

About half of that will go toward a 300-room resort hotel, called Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. It will open in summer 2015 on 100 acres near the water park Dollywood’s Splash Country.

The rest is for upgrades at the Dollywood theme park and Splash Country, including a new roller coaster called FireChaser Express. It will open at Dollywood next year.

“My dreams are just about to come true,” Parton told a cheering audience in Dollywood’s Showstreet Palace theater. “We’re planning to invest over $300 million in the next 10 years to make this area, and Dollywood, one of the biggest and most popular destinations in the whole country.”

The resort will be within walking distance of Splash Country, and the company will provide door-to-door transportation between the hotel and both parks. Park admission will be included in the price of rooms.

“It’s the first phase of our resort strategy,” Parton said. “We hope to build several more resorts in the area.”

The upgrades are expected to create 2,500 new jobs, Dollywood President Craig Ross said.

“Dollywood is investing big to become a full-fledged family destination,” Ross said. The new spending “is more than has been invested in the last 28 years.”

The theme park opened in 1986, when Parton and what is now Herschend Family Entertainment rebranded the Pigeon Forge attraction Silver Dollar City.

Parton was joined by officials including Gov. Bill Haslam, Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster and Tennessee Tourism Director Susan Whitaker.

“When somebody announces a $300 million investment in your state, it’s a big deal,” Haslam said.

Economic development often is associated with manufacturing, Haslam said. “But we don’t want to ignore the fact that tourism is literally one of our top industries, employing thousands of people across the state and bringing in $16.5 million. That’s money we can use to further our education system and help families across the state.”

Whitaker noted that Dollywood’s announcement comes just as Haslam is increasing the state’s tourism budget by $8 million.

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort will sit along Veterans Memorial Boulevard. The hotel will feature indoor and outdoor pools, a restaurant, a spa, event facilities and a 2,200-square-foot celebrity suite. Parton said the hotel’s design was inspired by the front porch of her family home in Sevier County.

The FireChaser Express roller coaster is firefighting-themed, and it will be built across from the Wild Eagle coaster, on the former site of the Adventure Mountain attraction. Manufactured by the German company Gerstlauer, it will be a dual-launch coaster that moves forward and backward.

“My favorite part about this ride is that little bitty kids can ride it, about 4 years old,” Parton said. “They’re going to be so excited.”

Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear, who attended the event, praised Dollywood's announcements. “The resort is going to be beautiful, and the ride is going to be amazing,” he said. “If you look beyond that and talk about the impact on our area, it means more jobs, which are so important now.”

Also at the event were Rep. Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) and Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).

“I don’t think you can overestimate the impact of a $300 million investment and the creation of 2,500 new jobs,” Overbey said. “I think it shows a real commitment on the part of Dolly Parton and Dollywood to continue to grow and help our entire community prosper.”

“It’s a commitment to Pigeon Forge, but it’s also a very needed commitment to our county,” Carr said. “It’s going to help the surrounding businesses, too.”

“The economic impact, the fiscal impact, will trickle down and help families of all classes,” Farmer said. “It’s going to enhance the sustainability of our area and the likelihood of new residents coming in.”

In her remarks from the stage, Teaster noted that Dollywood is central to Pigeon Forge’s economy. “Tourism is our livelihood, and as Dollywood goes, so tourism goes in this area,” she said.

She also said, of Parton, “She’s genuine, she’s real, and we absolutely could not do without her.”