Now that Townsend’s campaign for Arrowmont’s relocation has intensified, the Gatlinburg government folks want to preserve its history in town. Nonetheless, as David Willard stated, the Pi Phis could still sell the land at any moment. While somewhat good news, it’s no time to relax. Emily Tarr still has the land sale $$ in her sites.
“That’s what I’ve heard,” Mayor Mike Werner said Friday. “I haven’t verified it by trying to track down the developer, but I heard that gentleman (who had been in and out of Gatlinburg promoting the deal) has gone, left town.”
The mysterious front man from Indiana, who apparently was representing other developers, had been in discussions for months mostly with David Perella, the city’s director of tourism.
“I haven’t spoken to him for weeks,” Perella said when asked about the proposed project. The front man for the development has never been publicly identified.
The $500 million project, first revealed in a Mountain Press story Aug. 24, was to include four hotels, indoor and outdoor water parks, a massive parking garage, four retail villages and condominiums. It would have included the 14 acres housing Arrowmont, the property where Arrowcraft Shop is and some other land all owned by Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women. The fraternity land as well as some adjacent to it much of that owned by the Reagan family would have been the site of the massive project.
A call Friday to the office of Brownlee Reagan was not returned.
With the potential buyer of the fraternity land apparently backing out, it likely means the entire project won’t go forth.
Perella isn’t ready to say that, but he is realistic.
“I don’t really know what they’re doing at this point. I don’t know,” he said when asked if the project is dead. “I haven’t heard a word about it one way or the other from anyone. I’m not sure what that means at this point.”
Perella said not hearing from the front man for so long he figures it’s been over a month isn’t that unusual, “but it does raise some questions.” Perella said he contacted the man once or twice in the early stages of the discussions, but since then he says it’s always been the other guy, not Perella, who initiated contact.
Pi Beta Phi was approached by a developer some months ago with an unsolicited offer for the land housing Arrowmont. The fraternity’s seven-member Grand Council agreed to entertain the offer, and that decision has caused controversy among fraternity members and supporters of Arrowmont. The school of arts and crafts has leased the land from Pi Beta Phi since the 1960s.
David Willard, director of Arrowmont, said he’s not surprised the planned development fell through given the tough economy and tight credit, but he added that the news doesn’t mean Arrowmont’s future is secure.
“It’s my understanding at this time that the fraternity is still interested in selling the property,” Willard said Friday. If the Grand Council seriously considered an unsolicited offer in the past, it would likely do so again, he said.
Werner, who supports new development in Gatlinburg, thinks it’s time for the city to get involved in saving Arrowmont or having a say in how the land might be developed if it changes hands. But his priority is to preserve Arrowmont.
As of now no direct involvement by the city in the future of Arrowmont and the property is being pursued, the mayor said.
“I’m concerned more than anything else with the appearance and aesthetic look of Gatlinburg,” Werner said. He noted the hillside task force work, the “Priority: Gatlinburg” plan and other actions as proof city officials care about the kind and look of development and in keeping the city’s links to its history and culture.
“But first of all we’re concerned with Arrowmont,” Werner said. “We want to make sure Arrowmont remains an important part of this community, and we’d like them to stay where they are.”
Werner is co-owner of an indoor attraction on the Parkway that the proposed developers wanted to buy.