Dolly Parton imagined a Dollywood resort from the beginning

"This is just our first stop"
Aug. 21, 2013 @ 08:54 PM

On Wednesday, Dolly Parton announced a $300 million expansion of her namesake entertainment complex, including a 300-room resort hotel on 100 acres. It is set to open in 2015. In a conversation at Dollywood's Chasing Rainbows museum, she discussed the resort's origins and upcoming developments at Dollywood. This interview has been edited.

When did you first imagine a resort?

I imagined it about the same time I imagined building Dollywood. Then, within the third year after the park opened, I thought, we need our own resort. Because everybody would ask me, "Is there a hotel there?" and I'd say, "There's great hotels in our area." They'd say, "Yeah, but we want to stay kind of closer in." That was when I got the idea that people would really feel more comfortable if they knew they had a room near the park. We've tried several times, and either the deal wasn't exactly right, or we didn't feel good about the people that we were going to go into business with. Then we were ready to open it, and the economy tanked a few years back. We were really, really close, and we thought, nope, we've got to put it on hold. Because we didn't know what was going on. The business of the park, and everything else, was kind of stalled. Everybody was scared to death at the time, us included. So we put it on hold, and it's just now that we're feeling really good about it. We've got new energy with Craig Ross, our new president, and new excitement. It'll be our 30th anniversary when (the resort) opens in 2015. Can you believe it? That's going to be our present, to ourselves and to our families.

Disney theme parks have been about hotels and resorts from the beginning. Did you look to Disney as you envisioned this project?

Always, we look at what other people are doing. Of course, Disney had more money than I did when we were starting, and they still do. And they've got the weather, as far as being able to be open year-round. We, on the other hand, kind of have to close up a little bit – although, with this new resort, we're going to be open year-round. We'll have a lot of recreation indoors, as well as on the grounds, where we can do some winter things. But with Disney, they're just such a great company to look toward. Of course, we'll probably never be of that magnitude, but we want to be, in this part of the world, kind of what they are.

In Pigeon Forge, recently, liquor by the drink was made legal. Is that connected to this project being announced now?

No. It was good timing, though. We were going to build a resort, but we didn't know if we would ever be able to sell wine and drinks at the hotel. We will, in order to be competitive, because the guests demand it of a hotel/resort. We will never be serving liquor or anything in the parks, or Dixie (Stampede). But that worked out well for us. It's nice that that happened.

When did you start acquiring land for the resort?

We're always trying to buy land around here. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don't. We were fortunate that just in the last few weeks, we acquired the remainder of the hundred acres that we really needed. We already had enough to start the first phase. Actually, the new resort is only going to be on 20 acres right now, but we have that whole 100 acres to expand the resort and the other things.

Can you speak to future expansion plans?

It'll either be two or three different phases of the resort. Maybe we'd build another portion of the resort that would be higher priced and classier, or we may build one that's less expensive. Probably we'll entertain thoughts of campgrounds, that sort of thing. We already have, as you know, the cabins that we rent. We'll continue to have those. Those are really popular and doing really well. So we'll make sure that we keep that up , and then we'll just add to the resort. We've got the land secured. This is just our first stop.

kburns@themountainpress.com