Pigeon Forge tourism sees rise
The effects of November’s wildfires were on many minds during Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear’s annual State of the City address, but they didn’t dominate his report.
Despite the fire, Pigeon Forge’s tourism increased in 2016, Wear told a crowd of several hundred at the city’s LeConte Center during the monthly Pigeon Forge Hospitality and Tourism Association luncheon.
Businesses in the city saw $1.263 billion in gross revenue from tourism last year, the best ever, Wear said.
“We’re proud to say that we’re 10 percent up over our record year last year,” he said.
The impact of visitors increased faster in Sevier County than anywhere else in the state; Pigeon Forge had 2.7 million overnight visitors in 2009, and last year was up to 3.7 million, Wear said.
“I don’t have to tell the people in this room how important tourism is in our area,” he said. “It is our lifeblood.”
Tourist dollars pay for a range of city services and helps keep property taxes low, Wear said.
City department heads gave updates on a variety of projects, most of which will aid tourism in some way.
Pigeon Forge’s trolley service had 2.8 million riders last year and is working on a new $6.5 million facility, Wear said.
Work continues on the extension of Jake Thomas Road to link Parkway and Veterans Boulevard, public works director Mark Miler said.
“We have both ends finished, and now we’re ready to connect,” he said.
Remaining construction should take until about 2020 on the $28 million to $30 million project, done in partnership with the state, according to Miller.
Three thousand feet will be added to the city’s Riverwalk Trail over the next year, city parks and recreation director Lanny Goodwin said. The $1.4 million cost is mostly covered by state and federal grants; the trail will parallel Parkway, enabling visitors to walk between major attractions, he said.
The Ripken Center has hosted 650 baseball and softball teams since opening in March 2016, Goodwin said. The facility, a partnership between the Cal Ripken Foundation and the city, has had a 20 percent surge of business this year, he said.
The city had 22 percent growth in new development since 2015, community development director David Taylor said, as new hotels, restaurants and medical facilities have been built.
But the city’s biggest need is for affordable housing, he said. A couple of years ago, city planners began looking for suitable sites and developers, and those efforts are starting to pay off with construction of two developments. Taylor said he’s confident a developer will be found soon for another 11-acre site.
Fire chief Tony Watson said his department answered 77 fire calls in 2016, a big increase from 2015, and hundreds of calls for other services. In the November wildfires, Pigeon Forge lost only 18 buildings within its limits. Forty-eight departments assisted Pigeon Forge firefighters, he said.
Pigeon Forge paid for a study to gauge the impact of the fire on people’s travel plans, said Leon Downey, city department of tourism director. In December, people’s intentions to visit from 20 target markets had declined; but repeating the message that Pigeon Forge and its attractions survived intact has helped, he said.
A new marketing campaign to emphasize that will start March 27, Downey said
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by JIM GAINES
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