Anakeesta, $47 million Gatlinburg project, moves forward

12/28/2016

The thought of the land for his $47 million development going up in flames flashed through Bob Bentz’s mind as he and his wife were fleeing for their lives on Nov. 28.

Bob and Karen Bentz are co-developers of Anakeesta, a 72-acre, outdoor-adventure project that was targeted to open in spring 2017.

Bob Bentz said the couple lives in Silver Bell Heights, on the side of the same mountain on which their development will be constructed. On that fateful evening, the Bentz’s, like so many residents, had to flee from their home to escape the flames

“Of the 13 houses on our street, ours is the only one left,” he said. "Of the 12 houses that burned down, we owned two."

Bentz said the fire has pushed back the opening date of Anakeesta from spring until June, but he considers that small worries.

“It was certainly traumatic when it (the fire) happened,” he said. “Your immediate assumption is that it is really bad and it burned everything up.”

The development includes a 2.1-acre lot on the downtown Parkway in Gatlinburg. It is located on the site of the Arrowcraft building. The main part of Anakeesta will cover 70 acres on a mountain that overlooks Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“All 70 acres on the mountain got burned to some degree," he said. "A lot of the impact from the fire was the burning of leaf litter and understory plants. In these areas, we expect minimum long-term impact to the trees. The majority of the property falls under this category. There are areas that sustained more fire damage. These areas were typically along the ridges of the mountain.”

The only work begun on that 70-acre parcel was the installing of some underground utilities and road work, and no damage was sustained to it. Bentz said five cabins were lost. Their business partner, Michele Canney, lost her home.

Still, he sees some positives.

“The good news with the fire is that it opened up the ridge tops, and allows for better mountain view. We also discovered some nice features that were covered by the forest and understory,” he said.

The fire caught the 2.1-acre construction in downtown Gatlinburg at an opportune time.

“The parkway parcel is currently under development with site work preparing it for the vertical construction,” Bentz said.

The parcel had been cleared, including the removing of the Arrowcraft building – a Gatlinburg fixture for more than 20 years – to Baskins Creek Bypass, where it is being used as the Anakeesta project’s office building. The building was undamaged in the fire.

“On (Dec. 26), we will actually start building on the (Parkway) site,” he said in an interview last week.

When finished, the plan is to have a welcome area on the Parkway from which guests will take a sky gondola, called a Chondola, to the 70-acre development.

In the mountain parcel, there will be a village area with stores and food places designed like mini-treehouses,” Bentz said. “Ziplines and a tree canopy loft walking area where you can walk from tree to tree to tree will also be part of it. There will be a children’s treehouse playground.”

Guests will stay in treehouse rooms with air conditioning, gas fireplaces and bathrooms. The only streets on the mountain will be a few 12-foot-wide emergency vehicle roads.

Since the fire, the couple has decided to add one more area.

“We are going to have a memorial area for the fire,” he said. “There will be a tree walk through the area most burned in the fire. The fire is a part of our history now. People will want to remember what happened and how it looked.”

Bentz said he sees his losses from the fire as light compared to others’.

“We’re picking up our pieces and moving forward,” he said. “Gatlinburg is a beautiful and great community, before and after the fire. All will be good."

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Steve Ahillen

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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