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Hotel & resort atop Lookout Mountain planned for Walker County

Image: The Scenic Land Company

Local leaders have announced a new plan for for Lookout Mountain’s Canyon Ridge Resort. The planned project introduces a major branded, upper-upscale/luxury resort, conference center and spa to Northwest Georgia and the Chattanooga MSA that will attract regional, national and international visitors, according to Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield, Georgia State Senator Jeff Mullis and Robert Wardlaw, Chairman of the Walker County Development Authority, and Scenic Land Company President Duane Horton.

The Walker County/Scenic Land Company team says it has identified the Canyon Ridge Resort site as unique within the Southeast, saying that "no location offers a similar mountaintop, upper-upscale/luxury resort experience within a two-hour drive of 14 million people and 28 Fortune 500 companies in the Nashville, Birmingham, Knoxville, Huntsville, Atlanta and Chattanooga markets." It says the resort will complement and expand the market for the numerous tourist destinations in Walker County and surrounding areas in Northwest Georgia, the northern region of what the State of Georgia has identified as the “Historic High Country”.

Over the past months, Scenic Land Company says it has been meeting with the Canyon Ridge Homeowners Association, the Walker County Development Authority, officials with the State of Georgia and other stakeholders. It says these efforts have resulted in overwhelming support and enthusiasm for the resort.

The Scenic Land Company says plans call for the resort to be built on a shelf on the eastern brow of Lookout Mountain overlooking historic McClemore Cove. It says the setting will allow visitors to enjoy spectacular sunrises as well as the majestic shadows of Lookout Mountain covering the valley floor as the sun sets, and says the resort is designed to take full advantage of these dramatic views without taking away from its natural and unique setting.

Scenic Land Company says it has assembled a nationally recognized team to design, develop and build the resort. It says the resort’s Master Planner, Hart Howerton, is renowned for its ability to plan large-scale national and international projects authentic to location and sensitive to the natural settings of each site. Known for its groundbreaking design of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Hart Howerton has grown its portfolio to include resorts in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Scottsdale, as well as Palmetto Bluff, the expansion of Sea Island, and the restoration of The Greenbrier. Most recently, their work took them to Shanghai where they completed work on the newest Disney Resort.

Scenic Land Company looked to Valor Hospitality Partners, an Atlanta-based global hospitality management company led by Euan McGlashan, to provide oversight and operations for the resort. McGlashan’s experience includes Cape Grace Hotel in South Africa, named “Best Hotel of the Year” in 2000 by Condé Nast, Barnsley Gardens where he served German Prince Hubertus Fugger of Bavaria, Sea Palms Resort and Hotel Indigo-Atlanta, among its more than 40 locations spread across three continents.

The Scenic Land Company says numerous local resources including design, construction, legal and financial services as well as many others are already engaged, and more are targeted as the project progresses. Horton noted “We are primarily funded by local investors and we are developing a project for the benefit of the local community and our investors.”

Commissioner Whitfield said, “We’ve known for some time that Canyon Ridge, with the previous investment made, had the potential to be something special for Walker County and the entire region. This development provides a tremendous opportunity to positively impact our county. We appreciate the time taken by Scenic Land Company to assemble such a strong team that wants to promote long-term, sustainable growth in one of our most scenic areas. It is also equally important to note that our friends at Scenic Land Company have brought plans that do not include any financial contributions or risk backing from Walker County or the Development Authority. Even though it was never requested, we made it abundantly clear from the beginning that Walker County is not in a position to take on any financial investment or risk at this time. We committed to the Scenic Land team that we would enthusiastically support and facilitate the process, and we have certainly made good on that commitment. This is a very exciting opportunity for our county and the region.”

He noted that Phase I of the project is slated to cost approximately $106 million and will create nearly 2,000 construction jobs and 280 permanent jobs, according to a FedFit Study.

“This is an important opportunity for economic development in Walker County,” said Robert Wardlaw, Chairman of the Walker County Development Authority. “The Development Authority Board has been most impressed with the professionalism, candor, and vision demonstrated by Mr. Horton and his team. This is a very unique development in a very unique venue. The project creates tourism dollars from outside the area, which increases Walker County’s retail tax base.” The Walker County Development Authority is governed independently from Walker County and led by Chairman Wardlaw, appointed to the Board by the City of LaFayette.

Duane Horton, a native of Walker County, said, “We are humbled by the overwhelming support we’ve received not only from the residents of Canyon Ridge but also by those willing to invest in the plans we have for the area. We appreciate the patience of everyone as we thoughtfully and methodically work through every challenge and detail of this project. I grew up in Walker County, at the base of Lookout Mountain, working on farms and then at Rock City before earning a degree in Construction Management from Georgia Tech. It brings me great joy to have the opportunity to reinvest in my home community.”

Horton also noted, “It’s an added benefit that this project will not only increase jobs and economic development in Walker County but will also benefit the entire region. This is evidenced by the support at the state level being led by State Senator Jeff Mullis. Senator Mullis’ support is instrumental in securing investment in our community from the State of Georgia, specifically the Tourism Development Act created to incentivize projects just like the Canyon Ridge project. It is exciting to see a collaboration of leaders working together for the benefit of everyone they represent as well as those in neighboring communities.”

Initial funding for the project comes from Scenic Land Investments existing funds as well as its newly created fund, SLI.3. Horton stated, “There is no debt on the land and all work to date has been funded with available cash.” The construction of the project is not fully funded, but the team says it is committed to the project for the long-term. Scenic Land Company says it's already working with financial institutions and anticipates full funding for the project to be secured this year.

The developer is making plans now to build a much needed fire and emergency response station, phase one of the clubhouse as well as launching a comprehensive marketing strategy including the sale of lots and memberships.

The local private and public investments have been committed and the required assets are being secured. The only outstanding incentive needed, prior to moving to secure full funding for the entire project, is through the State of Georgia’s Tourism Development Act. Horton said, “Scenic Land Company’s pre-application has been submitted and we are hopeful to receive approval in the coming days. Walker County and surrounding counties in northwest Georgia have a number of tourism destinations that contribute to the Chattanooga’s MSA economy. This project will benefit the region by providing another unique and authentic tourism destination while itself benefiting from the rich history and beauty of the region as well as the tremendous amount of investment being made in the area.”

Horton added, “We have been working on this project since 2008. It is as well studied and proven as any effort I have witnessed. Despite having funding secured in 2010, the project did not proceed due to the distraction of an ill-conceived competing effort that was well documented in what proved to be the longest trial in Hamilton County history. The efforts with the trial were not completed until the middle of 2015. Scenic Land Company re-engaged on the development efforts in 2016. We learned much from our first efforts and then defending those efforts at trial under scrutiny of attack for nearly seven weeks. We have applied everything we learned to make the project a sound and sustainable venture for our team, our investors and our community. We will forever be grateful of the representation of Dallas based law firm McKool Smith led by Principal, Robert Manley and Lead Associate, Avery Williams. Their efforts resulted in a successful conclusion to a lengthy and demanding case that provided us with the opportunity to breathe new life into this project.”

Georgia State Senator Jeff Mullis said, “As a member of the State’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee and representative for District 53 that includes this area, I’m looking forward to the economic momentum Canyon Ridge will provide for the area. Living wage jobs will support our families and provide opportunities for years to come. The ripple effect of this one project will encourage additional businesses to move into our region. Our workforce is ready to support Canyon Ridge at all levels.”

Horton noted the Scenic Land Company’s commitment in not only being good stewards of the land, but also being great corporate citizens in Walker County. “Tourism projects are great for a number of reasons. They bring outside money into the local economy, they provide jobs that cannot be shipped away, and they do not require the same strain on the school system and other governmental agencies that provide services to our citizens. We are looking for a long-term relationship in Walker County. If we do our job well, we know that this beautiful setting will draw more visitors to the area, which in turn will lead to job growth and provide a strengthened tax base for the county. Our goal is always to maximize profit for those investing in us and to preserve the land within the communities we develop. We look forward to being an active part of this vibrant community for years to come.”

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