Work starts on Gatlinburg Margaritaville

12/28/2016

When Bob McManus and his partners opened The Island in Pigeon Forge three and a half years ago, they began seeking a site in Gatlinburg for a matching property, the Knoxville developer said.

Fourteen months ago, they found one: the old Best Western Twin Islands at 539 Parkway. The Best Western closed only three weeks ago, McManus said, and the deal sealed a day or two after wildfires threatened the city.

"We had approached the owners about the site," McManus said as he watched trackhoes tear into the building Friday afternoon. "This was by far the premier location in Gatlinburg," his partner Alex Davis finished where McManus trailed off.

Rising in the Best Western’s place, on a 5-acre site including The Island in the Pigeon River, will be the seven-story Margaritaville Resort in the Smokies.

The $35 million project, with 174 rooms that can hold 500 guests altogether, will match The Island’s Caribbean-casual theme.

"We're all part of the Jimmy Buffett hospitality family," McManus said. It will be “the hammock” for people to relax in after “the fun” of downtown Gatlinburg’s adjacent attractions, he said, quoting more taglines from the singer.

The Island 8 miles away has been a big success in Pigeon Forge, and McManus and his partners expect as much or more in Gatlinburg, he said.

McManus is president of Margaritaburg LLC, a group of investors from Sevier and Knox counties and the surrounding area, according to a news release. The group and its affiliates will own and operate The Island and the Margaritaville Resort. One of the investors is Davis, owner of D&S Builders LLC, which is the project’s building contractor.

The Best Western’s owners were retiring from the hotel business, and the deal’s timing only happened to coincide with the wildfire that closed Gatlinburg hotels and attractions until early this month, Davis and McManus said.

Fronting on the Parkway will be a LandShark Grill restaurant that is expected to open this spring, on the former Hard Rock Café site; and the resort as a whole should open in July 2018.

Demolition of the old hotel started Dec. 13 – only four days after Gatlinburg reopened to visitors – and construction of the new resort will start in the next few months, according to the news release.

The Margaritaville Resort is intended to become one of the few four-diamond resorts in Sevier County, Davis said.

The hotel will have another restaurant of its own, a coffee shop, retail store, 4,000-square-foot outdoor pool, water slide and splash pad, hot tub, heated indoor pool, and a “St. Somewhere” spa – named for Buffett’s most recent album.

In the entryway plans call for a fountain, featuring a colorful parrot reclining in a margarita glass. That’s McManus’ favorite touch, he said

Echoing many local leaders and business owners, McManus said the most important thing people can do to help the area recover from the devastating fire is to once again patronize Gatlinburg’s hotels, shops and restaurants. People who live in Sevier County need the jobs those provide, he said.

Though it won’t completely open for 18 months, the Margaritaville Resort and associated restaurants should provide 150 new jobs, McManus 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

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