Pigeon Forge sees record year in tourism

Pigeon Forge officials and business people were unsure how much the November 2016 wildfire would impact the city’s vital tourism industry in 2017, but it turned out to be the best year ever, Mayor David Wear told the Pigeon Forge Hospitality & Tourism Association.

“This year we set another gross receipts record in the city of Pigeon Forge,” he said. That amounted to nearly $1.3 billion, up 3 percent over 2016, which was itself a record year, Wear said during his annual “state of the city” address, given at the LeConte Center during the PFHTA’s monthly meeting.

Wear spoke briefly, leaving detailed reports to city department heads.

Lots of roadwork, to serve visitors and residents, is on tap for this year, Public Works Director Mark Miller said.

“The Parkway is fixing to get resurfaced,” he said. “This is going to be a massive project.”

The work — 44 total miles, counting all lanes — will be done at night during April to minimize the impact on traffic, Miller said.

The state’s recent gas tax increase will pay for the extension of Jake Thomas Road from near Teaster Lane to Veterans Boulevard, he said. A new turn lane will be added to the Parkway turnoff to Gatlinburg, and the city recently approved building a “West Side Connector” road behind Publix to let people cross town without using the Parkway, Miller said.

And Pigeon Forge is working with Sevierville to coordinate traffic lights all the way from Interstate 40, he said.

“It’ll treat it like (one) big city instead of two separate cities,” Miller said.

A coming expansion of the city’s Greenway system will let people cross under the Parkway without waiting for a traffic light, city Parks & Recreation Director Lanny Goodwin said. The city is seeking a $1.1 million state grant for future work to connect many attractions, he said.

An ongoing update of the recreation master plan will aim to make Pigeon Forge more accommodating for walkers and bicyclists, Goodwin said.

“If you look at the city of Pigeon Forge, there’s really not one bike lane at this point,” he said.

Lots of new development is coming in 2017, including some affordable housing, said Community Development Director David Taylor. Pigeon Forge and Sevier County in general suffer from a lack of housing for employees, serious enough that restaurants, hotels and attractions have trouble filling jobs because there is nowhere nearby for workers to live.

Planners recently approved a 350 acre planned unit development on the city’s south end, which includes 181 single- family “resort” units, 536 multifamily “resort” units and more than 300,000 square feet of commercial space, but its first phase also will have 256 multifamily units for employees, Taylor said.

The city is pressing developers to build more housing for potential employees, he said. Another 230 units of affordable housing should be available this year, and two more such developments are in design, Taylor said. In addition, 70 units will be renovated to house foreign student workers, here on J-1 cultural and educational exchange visas, he said.

City firefighters answered 2,420 calls for service last year, an increase of 25 percent from 2016, Senior Fire Inspector Roger Price said. More than half the total were EMS/rescue calls, but 91 were actual fires — an increase of 50 percent from 2016’s fire numbers, he said.

That indicates the fire department may need to step up its public education efforts, Price said. He urged people to sign up for Code Red emergency alerts at www.cityofpigeonforge.com.

The city’s trolleys, now the fifth-largest transit system in the state, carried nearly 3 million passengers in 2017, Trolley Director Lynn Wilhoite said.

“That blows my mind. Almost 3 million,” he said. About 400,000 trolley passengers went to Dollywood, and the trolleys delivered nearly 59,000 visitors on to Gatlinburg, Wilhoite said.

The Ripken Experience drew more than 8,000 baseball players last year, mostly from the eastern half of the country, said the attraction’s general manager, David Bounds.

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



Published February 20, 2018