Lake City meets to discuss changing name to Rocky Top

In the small community of Lake City, the talk of the town is the topic of renaming the city Rocky Top.

Developers of a massive Rocky Top theme park have wooed people in the city to consider a name change. Friday night Lake City is holding a public meeting to see a presentation and hold a question-and-answer session.

"The name 'Rocky Top,' the reaction has been huge. I mean there's been a lot of debate on it," said Brandon Brown, a resident of Lake City. "It's just about all anyone is talking about."

"I lived here when the town was called Coal Creek back in the 1930s when they changed it to Lake City. I'd be interested to know why couldn't they just leave it Lake City and just have the park be Rocky Top," said resident James Harness. "But I can see how it would help Lake City if they do it."

Anderson County commissioner Tim Isbel is part of the business group pushing for the new development. Isbel said the project will only happen if the city changes its name.

"The whole excitement and attention would come from changing the city's name. It would change everything. It would change the description of the area from 'Lake City is 20 miles north of Knoxville' to 'Knoxville is 20 miles south of Rocky Top.' There are already businesses lined up ready to come in if the name is changed to Rocky Top. There are candy corn companies ready to set up downtown and we've even gotten a call from a minor league baseball team. It would be a marketing coup," said Isbel.

The theme park would be built on land currently owned by Lake City on Highway 441 between Interstate 75 and US 25.

"The first phase of this is what we call the Rocky Top Pavilion. We want live entertainment like Branson, Missouri. There are plans for a big indoor-outdoor water park. There's a restaurant that will seat 500 people. We have concepts for a sports museum hall of fame and sports complex," said Isbel.

The attraction to Lake City is due in large part to the infrastructure with multiple exits along Interstate 75 already in place. This also would not be the first name change for the city.

"It was changed in the late 1930s from Coal Creek to Lake City for a reason. That was to bring revenue into a struggling community," said Isbel.

Interestingly, the Coal Creek community changed its name to Lake City because at that time travelers had to go through the city on US 25 and Highway 441 to reach Norris Lake. Then Interstate 75 was built between Lake City and Norris Lake, thereby turning lake tourists away from Lake City. Now the interstate access to Lake City is driving the name change.

"This is something where you have multiple exits and easy access to a major theme park. It would impact the entire area in Anderson County and Campbell County, the same way tourism and attractions have grown and spread to areas surrounding Gatlinburg," said Isbel.

Of course, the city itself is not the only thing with "Lake City" in the name. Take a quick drive down Main Street and you'll pass Lake City Tire, the Lake City Community Center, Lake City Family Dentistry, Lake City Industrial Park, Lake City Middle School, and the Lake City Industrial Park. The youth football team and the middle school sports teams are known as the Lakers.

Isbel says all businesses will benefit from the attraction of a Rocky Top name change.

"If you see a solid vote from city council, you'll start seeing companies come in already. There's a company that makes gourmet candy corn and it wants to set up downtown and sell candy from a jar, just like the song says people 'get their corn from a jar.' This is a real opportunity to bring revenue and visitors to the area. This is a downtown that has been really struggling through the years," said Isbel.

"When you have more people coming in you have more spending money, so it would help," said Harness.

"I'm really excited about it and I'm hoping it'll change the way everything's done here. I hope it happens and this becomes Rocky Top," said Brown.

Next week, the city council will vote on whether to officially recommend changing Lake City's name to Rocky Top. Then state lawmakers would have to give final approval to the name change during the next legislative session that starts in January.


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