Addressing casino rumors at abandoned Dumplin Creek in Sevier County

A convention center could easily be converted into casino gaming space if Tennessee ever changes its gambling laws (file photo/TheSmokies.com)
A convention center could easily be converted into casino gaming space if Tennessee ever changes its gambling laws (file photo/TheSmokies.com)

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Back in the heady days prior to the Great Recession in fall of 2007, a development was brewing in Sevierville off of Exit 407.

The land was cleared. The plan was good. 

The white whale of East Tennessee commercial real estate had been landed: A Target. 

Dear, sweet 8-pound, 7 ounce Baby Jesus, we were gonna have a Target. 

Shoppers across the region were prepared. They practiced casting askance views at the lesser retail chains common in smaller communities as they drove past on their way to the barren earth where their beloved Target would soon materialize. 

“We’re getting a Target,” they’d say, doing jazz hand dances and backing their asses up. “We’ve finally got a piece of the pie.”

Then the economy crashed. The Dumplin Creek development fell through, banks foreclosed and thousands of East Tennessee shoppers went through the stages of grief. 

“We never wanted a Target, anyway,” they’d hiss as they mingled with the hoi polloi at the Wal-mart, selecting from an array of $7 blouses. 

“Oh, who are we kidding? These aren’t even cute!” they’d say before dashing into the parking lot shedding tears and cursing the economy gods who put too much faith in the housing bubble. 

And so the dream died. And it sat there, an empty, festering eyesore of flattened mountains, rock and hard brown dirt. 

In 2007, the economy crashed and the Dumplin Creek development fell through (photo by Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com)
In 2007, the economy crashed and the Dumplin Creek development fell through (photo by Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com)

Plans change, hope spouts again

For years, it served as a cruel reminder of what might have been. 

But earlier this year, hope sprouted once again. 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – which in 2019 bought 122 acres across the highway near Smokies Stadium – purchased the 198 acre-site in January. 

There was more than a bit of poetic justice in the purchase. The website indianz.com reported the Dumplin Creek site is ancestral territory for the Cherokee, which essentially had the rights to the land stolen in a 1785 treaty signed with leaders of what was then known as the State of Franklin. 

A historical marker in nearby Kodak commemorates the Treaty of Dumplin Creek thusly:

“The only treaty made by the state of Franklin was signed here after some negotiation. Commissioners were John Sevier, Alexander Outlaw, and Daniel Kennedy. Signatory Cherokee chiefs were the King of the Cherokees, Ancoo of Chota, Abraham of Chilhowee, The Sturgeon of Tallassee, The Bard of the Valley Towns and some thirty others.”

In multiple published interviews about the site, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Richard G. Sneed has indicated the site is to be transferred to the nation’s partners in the region, Kituwah, LLC.

Mark Hubble, Kituwah LLC executive director, told onefeather.com that they have been approached by prospective tenants. 

“We expect that a mix of restaurants, hotels, and entertainment options will be the primary focus of development,” he told the site. “The key is finding the anchor draw attractions.  We have been in contact with some potential consultants and brokers but now that we have closed, we will begin the process of sending out RFPs for various services.” 

“We have had discussions with the company that helped demolish the mountain and have some very preliminary estimates of what the site preparation budget might look like, but once we get the full site planned out we will be in a position to budget the cost and revenue projections from a mixture of projects that we will operate and leases on parcels.  We are very confident that the site will be a very successful development that will benefit the Tribe for decades.”

Exit 407 is a destination for retailers as well as tourists. No longer is it the site chiefly known for a gas station featuring a giant paper-mache head of racing legend Richard Petty.  It is now the main entrance for a tourism Mecca. In fact, TDOT community relations officer Mark Nagi notes that 10 to 12 million vehicles per year utilize the I-40 Exit 407 interchange each year.  

Is a casino a real possibility in Sevier County?

Which brings us to the big rumor currently circulating amongst the locals: Is Sevier County getting a casino?

In an interview with the Bristol Herald Courier, Sneed indicated hotel space and a convention center could be possible. Sneed also indicated that a convention center could easily be converted into casino gaming space if Tennessee ever changes its gambling laws. Sneed conceded that getting Tennessee to change its constitution would be a “heavy lift.”

“From my perspective, I saw it as an opportunity to have a footprint in the area. The governor signed the sports betting bill, but Tennessee’s state Constitution expressly forbids gambling, so, for Tennessee, it will be a heavy lift if it ever happens,” he told the Herald Courier.

Read More: A casino in Sevier County? This illicit tradition may soon see light of day

Neither Hubble nor Sneed gave any indication about whether or not they’d pursue a Target. 

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.


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