Tribe to invest $75 million in Sevier County ‘themed spectacle’
One of the world’s top amusement park companies will partner with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to create a “themed spectacle” centering Cherokee history at the 200-acre property under development by Kituwah LLC at Exit 407 of Interstate 40 in Sevier County, Tennessee.
The Cherokee Tribal Council voted 11-1 yesterday to appropriate $75 million for the project, which the tribe will own through its LLC. Puy du Fou, a French company twice elected “Best Theme Park in the World,” has signed a letter of intent to serve as the management firm following a February announcement that it was in talks with Kituwah on the project.
“We are excited to take the first steps towards developing this world-class attraction that will help support our nation economically while creating a new platform to share dimensions of Cherokee history many have never heard,” Tribal Council Chairman Richard French said in a statement.
Called “Cherokee Rose,” the attraction is set to anchor the property, dubbed The 407: Gateway to Adventure. It will showcase the “authentic and heartbreaking” story of Cherokee heroism during World War I through a “fully immersive” walk-through show that will take guests on a “patriotic and moving journey for the entire family,” according to a press release.
According to information shared in Tribal Council, $45 million of the $75 million appropriation will go toward developing Phase 1 of the attraction, while the remining $30 million will be for infrastructure work to develop the raw land.
The project will be Puy du Fou’s first in the United States, and Kituwah LLC’s agreement with the company includes a right of first refusal on any future concept within the U.S., Kituwah board member Adam West told Tribal Council.
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy said that the proposal had met a favorable response from the community members she represents when she discussed it with them during a meeting. She herself was also “comfortable” with the decision, despite the high price tag.
“If we give our people the information, they will read it and make their own decisions and eradicate the fear of just seeing us sitting here and handing out $75 million, because it’s scary,“ she said. “It is.”
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose was the sole vote against the project. He took issue with the fact that the tribe, not Puy du Fou, would be paying to build the attraction and questioned what the return on investment would be. His gut feeling is that it’s not a good deal, he said.
“Commercial gaming, you’re going to get a return pretty quick,” he said. “This, I don’t know when were going to get it back.”
Puy du Fou’s original flagship park in France draws more than 2.3 million visitors each year and trails only Disneyland Paris for the country’s highest number. The park offers multiple shows, period villages and more than half a dozen on-site resorts custom-designed and built with authenticity as a focal point. Having developed similar venues in Europe over the past 10 years, Puy du Fou is now looking at the U.S. for its next stage of expansion.
“This project in Tennessee developed together with the EBCI means a lot for us: it will initiate our presence on the American soil where there are so many great stories to tell," said Nicolas de Villiers, Chairman & Artistic Director of Puy du Fou. "As lovers of history and cultural roots, we are proud and honored to partner with the EBCI Tribe to achieve this goal.”
Ground broke on The 407 in November 2020. The property’s first anchor tenant project, a Buc-ee’s that when complete will be the world’s largest convenience store, broke ground in September 2021 and is scheduled to open next summer. In December, Tribal Council voted to allow another of its LLCs, EBCI Holdings, pursue construction of a sports betting bar on the property.
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The real story here is that I was at this meeting an spoke during this meeting, Many Tribal members like myself do not agree with the spending of these monies or the establishment of Kituwah LLC to begin with. Kituwah provides no financial information to tribal members on any of their investments or does any of the money generated from these investments come back ever to tribal members. Not one tribal member (16,152) I spoke to outside of the Kituwah group agrees with the spending of these dollars an could have could have been better spent on our ongoing critical housing needs or be put towards our tribal per capita!