What Walt Disney did with flat, swamp land in Florida, Dolly Parton is doing in the hills of East Tennessee.
More than entrepreneurs or smart business people, the two were blessed with fantastic imaginations and the knowledge of how to turn their dreams into reality.
Parton held a press conference Wednesday inside the park that bears her name to announce plans for a $300 million expansion to take place during the next decade. The investment is expected to create more than 2,500 new jobs.
“Who knew what would happen back in 1985 when I first announced Dollywood?” said Parton. “I talked a lot about how I wanted to create jobs and a great place for families. I wanted to create this for my people right here in the Smoky Mountains. I hope to make this area one of the biggest and most popular destinations in the whole country.”
One Dollywood addition taking place in 2014 is a new roller coaster. The roller coaster, titled FireChaser Express, will be the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster traveling backward and forward.
The FireChaser Express will launch from the loading station twice, traveling backward and forward on a winding 2,427-foot track. The ride will launch from the loading station traveling from zero to 16 mph in just 1.1 second. As the journey ends, a backward launch from zero to 20 mph in two seconds sends riders back to the station. The coaster is being touted as a family experience because the minimum height requirement is only 39 inches, that of an average 4-year-old.
A 300-room resort hotel is also planned to open in 2015. The resort will be built on 100 acres adjacent to Splash Country water park.
DreamMore resort will be the realization of a dream Parton has had for 30 years. The resort hotel will have 300 guest rooms including a 2,200 square foot grand suite to be named Dolly’s Suite Dreams celebrity suite. The entertainer will stay in the suite when visiting the parks and guests can rent the suite when Parton is not using it.
In the near future, Parton sees a resort hotel lobby with a three-story window that frames Mount LeConte — one of the tallest peaks in the Smoky Mountains.
Dolly said the resort will have porches with rocking chairs, hammocks and swings because her own front porch growing up was where she dreamed some of her biggest dreams. She said it was on the porch where her family would gather.
“It’s where we laughed together, it’s where we cried together and it’s where we dared to dream,” Parton said.
Traditional amenities included in the resort design will be multiple swimming pools, a salon and a spa.
The resort will include out-of-the-ordinary amenities including a fishing pond on the property where children can catch their first whopper and fire pits where families can roast marshmallows and s’mores. An amphitheteater nestled in the countryside will offer a place for outdoor entertainment.
“Tourism continues to boom. We’ve had a great, great year. We’ve got people coming from all parts of the country and overseas,” said Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker.
Whitaker said tourism brought in $15.36 billion in visitor spending to Tennessee with $1.6 billion coming from Sevier County.
The total dollar investment in the next decade will exceed the company’s spending on Dollywood so far, said Craig Ross, Dollywood president. The plan includes multiple additional resorts, as well as more rides and shows.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was on hand to congratulate Parton and thank her. “When someone announces a $300 million investment in your state, it is a big deal,” he said. “Tourism is one of our top industries across the state.”
Research by Dollywood shows the resort will make a difference for many people looking to vacation in the mountains.
A survey showed 80 percent of people asked about visiting the theme park, who had not yet come, indicated having a resort on the property would be important to them.
On an average day, there will be 50,000 guests in Pigeon Forge — a small city with a permanent population of 5,784.
Parton is a successful country music artist and actress. She is preparing for another European tour now. She will soon begin filming a Lifetime movie at Dollywood which is due to air during the Christmas season.
Parton said the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a magnet that has drawn visitors for decades. Visitation to the national park averages more than 9 million people a year.
Dollywood is positioning itself as a tourist destination in itself, even as it shares many of its visitors with the black bears and natural beauty of the Smokies.
For more information visit www.dreammoreresort.com or www.dollywood.com.