SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — A Buc-ee's Family Travel Center is the first confirmed business that will be part of a huge new development just off exit 407 to Sevier County.
The 200-acre development will be called The 407: Gateway to Adventure and is on property purchased by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Kituwah, LLC has partnered with the tribe on the development.
Officials with Buc-ee's Travel Center held a groundbreaking ceremony at the project site on Sept. 24. Developers said that they hoped to help turn the area into a gateway destination for the area, and for the Great Smoky Mountains.
“Our goal is to be the first stop on everyone’s Smoky Mountain adventure – and Buc-ee’s is the perfect partner to ensure we give our customers a great beginning and ending to their family vacation. This is a business about excellence in customer experience with a huge fan following,” said Kituwah CEO Mark Hubble.
They said that the travel center will be more than 74,000 square feet large and have 120 gas pumps, as well as a car wash.
Buc-ee's is based in Texas and is a popular travel stop known for cleanliness, good food, and a unique atmosphere. The Sevierville location will be the company's first "Big Store" in Tennessee at more than 74,000 square-feet, with more than 120 fueling positions, EV Charging stations, and a 250-foot long car wash.
Stan Beard, Director of Real Estate for Buc-ee’s, said, “It is not a coincidence that we chose The 407 as our first big store location outside of Texas. We will be the proverbial ‘welcome sign’ at the front door of the exceptional travel experience that the Smoky Mountains, Sevierville, and Sevier County has to offer. You won’t forget your first visit to Buc-ee’s and it won’t be your last! We are thrilled to share our over-the-top customer experience and be a pivotal part of the Kituwah and EBCI vision for the Gateway to Adventure.”
The first Buc-ee's in Tennessee is currently being built in Crossville.
The plot of land for the Sevierville location was planned for a Walmart long ago, but the recession in 2007 killed the project.
Kituwah, LLC, a development company owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), bought the 200 acre plot of land in 2019.
Developers haven't confirmed any other businesses for the area but said it could include a world-class golf attraction, hotels, an ultimate sports experience, a state-of-the-art indoor go-kart facility, a distillery experience, and unique “retailtainment” attractions that are a combination of both themed attractions and stores.
Officials believe the development will draw 6.7 million visitors in its first full year of operation when Phase I is complete.
Matthew Cross, founding partner and CEO of OE Experiences whose company is working with Kituwah, LLC on the project, said they've already drawn interest from developers and tenants around the world.
“The space we have allows us to bring entirely new concepts to market and allows many existing local operators the chance to go big with some mind-blowing new ideas. This is the first of several exciting announcements we will be making in coming months," Cross said.
It's not just tourists the development is hoping to attract. With easy access of I-40, it's a short drive from Knoxville.
"Sevier County is one of the best tourism economies in the country, it's very drivable has 12 million visitors," Cross said. "We want the 407 to be one of the first places they think of where they want to spend the night and have an adventure."
Chrissy Arch, Chair of the Kituwah Economic Development Board said, “We know Knoxville residents will visit this location for a unique date night, dining experience, shopping trip, or an easy weekend getaway. It is merely a 20-minute drive from Knoxville and a little over an hour from Asheville.
Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians said, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is proud to partner with the elected officials and residents of TN on this exciting new opportunity and the vision behind it. Working together, we are uniquely poised to bring an experience not currently seen in Eastern Tennessee, providing an additional source for employment and tourism to the region.”
Since the Cherokee tribe is involved, people always ask if a casino is a possibility. At this point, Tennessee state law would not allow a casino to be built in that location.
Kituwah is also sponsoring a traffic study, with the goal of adding another exit into Sevierville. According to Cross, exit 407 off I-40 is at capacity, and another exit would bring more tourists into the area.
Cross expects phase one of the project with Buc-ee's to be finished by 2023.