The owner of Cedars Golf Course announced a project Thursday (Feb. 25) to gradually turn the Volunteer Parkway facility into a massive camping, parking, hotel and retail complex that would work in tandem with the nearby Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.
Bob Slagle, owner of Cedars Golf Course, said the project – called Bristol’s Thunder Mountain – would be built on 469 acres over a five-year period. He said it would create some 10,000 new parking spots and 5,000 camping spaces near the speedway – greatly easing traffic pressure during the two annual NASCAR race weekends – and also produce more hotel rooms for spectators and tourists, according to tricities.com.
“It would be a huge benefit for the city and the speedway,” Slagle said. “I will have partners involved in this project, and it would be done in a gradual, organized way. But I’m excited about what this could mean for this area. And I believe we can get the city and speedway to work with us.”
Slagle said his company, Thunder Mountain LLC, was still developing an engineering and design plan for the entire project. But he said he was already prepared to invest $2 million to $3 million in the project’s first phase – creating the camping and parking spaces – once Bristol and BMS had agreed to support it.
“I haven’t ruled out starting work sometime this year, if we can get everyone on board,” Slagle said.
While Slagle suggested he was hoping to attract a specific hotel chain, he wouldn’t name it. He also did not offer specifics on possible partners in the project.
Reaction from BMS and Bristol officials Thursday ranged from intrigued to puzzled.
BMS spokesman Kevin Triplett said Thursday that while the speedway hadn’t seen Slagle’s specific plans, it has an open mind about the Thunder Mountain project.
“It’s certainly an interesting concept,” Triplett said. “We’re aware of how our facility can allow lots of other economic opportunities to develop around us.”
Triplett said new camping and parking areas near BMS could greatly help the speedway, if they were well-designed and offered easy access for race fans. And, Triplett said, the possibility of more nearby hotel rooms might also appeal to BMS, which competes for spectators and dollars with NASCAR tracks in bigger cities, such as Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and Phoenix.
“Anytime our business can benefit a surrounding business, which in turn can help us, it’s potentially something to look into,” Triplett said.
Bristol Deputy City Manager Michael Sparks said the city hasn’t held any discussions with Slagle about his project. “This is pretty much news to us,” Sparks said. “We haven’t seen his plan at all or heard anything about it.”
Sparks said another developer had briefly approached the city about a possible Cedars Golf project, but those talks took place more than a year ago.
“I can’t even tell you if that project was anything similar to what Mr. Slagle wants to do,” Sparks said. “Because we didn’t have any [advance] word on what he’s looking to do.”
Slagle said that under his plan, the Cedars Golf course would keep operating for the near future – but would gradually be closed down and phased out as the Thunder Mountain project expanded.
“We could start working now and our golfers wouldn’t even know it,” Slagle said, noting that the course is on 130 acres, less than one-third of his full property.
“Believe me, golfers will be able to golf here for a bit,” Slagle said.