Name: Jasper Highlands
Size: 9,000 acres, up to 3,200 home lots
Location: Jasper Mountain in Marion County
Developer: Thunder Enterprises Inc. in Chattanooga
First phase: 99 lots with an average size of 2.5 acres
Initial lot prices: $29,999 to $99,999
Home ownership dues: $300 a year
Brow property: 21.3 miles along top of Jasper Mountain
Amenities: Hiking trails, equestrian center, Highlands Park with outdoor pavilion, tennis courts, basketball court, ball fields and picnic area
Source: Thunder Enterprises Inc.
KIMBALL, Tenn. - Within a 30-minute drive of downtown Chattanooga, developer John "Thunder" Thornton is starting to build a mountaintop development that could grow into the biggest residential real estate project in Southeast Tennessee.
The first phase of the 9,000-acre Jasper Highlands, which Thornton hopes to sell out by this fall, will include 99 home sites atop Jasper Mountain in Marion County. With more than 21 miles of brow property, the complex ultimately could grow to include 3,200 homes and more than $800 million worth of development over the next 10 to 12 years.
"From the top of the brow you have an incredible view of the Tennessee River, Nickajack Lake, the Sequatchie Valley and all the way to Covenant College on Lookout Mountain," Thornton said Wednesday while preparing for an unveiling of the project today.
"This is an extraordinary property, close to the best mid-sized city in America, and we think it should be attractive to both retirees wanting to relocate to the mountains and to many professional workers in the area."
Despite foreclosures and failures at other mountaintop and resort developments in the region including Rarity Club, Sequatchie Pointe, Canyon Ridge and Preserve at Rising Fawn, Thornton insists he has priced his new development to reflect today's market conditions.
The initial lots on Jasper Mountain will be sold from $29,900 to $99,900 each and will vary from one to 13 acres. Home ownership dues are $300 a year.
"These type of brow lots were selling for $300,000 to $400,000 each with $375-a-month home ownership dues at Canyon Ridge before the recession hit," said Patti Boland, a vice president of sales for Thunder Enterprises who previously sold lots at Canyon Ridge in North Georgia before that project stalled. "These lots [in Jasper Highlands] are definitely priced very attractively and should sell quickly."
Thornton jokingly calls his sales pitch the "Herman Cain" approach.
"We have 99 lots priced no more than $99,900, and we hope to sell them out in 99 days," he quipped, referring to Cain's widely heralded "9-9-9" tax plan during his presidential campaign last year.
Unlike some of Thornton's other Tennessee and Wyoming developments, Jasper Highlands doesn't include its own golf course, clubhouse, fitness center or hunting lodge. But the gated community has set aside some of its best mountain views and waterfall sites as public areas and will include picnic and playground areas, a soccer field, tennis courts and a basketball court.
Horse trainers Chase and Kerry Dodd will move their equestrian center from Flat Top Mountain to Jasper Highlands in the next year to help board and train horses.
"The idea is to offer amenities people really want, without loading up the cost of living and maintenance the way some mountaintop communities do," said Dane Bradshaw, president of Thunder Enterprises who is leading the sales effort. "Life in Jasper Highlands will be what mountain living should be -- restful, comfortable and simple. It is mountain living people can afford."
Thornton acquired the mountaintop property in 2008. The land previously was used primarily for timber and pulp by Bowater for decades, but has not been previously developed.
Thornton said he has spent nearly $20 million buying and developing the land, including a new road up the mountain that allows motorists to reach the mountaintop homes in an easy 6-minute drive from Kimball. Work crews are adding roads into what Thornton says will be the next 122 lots he hopes to begin selling later this year.
Over the next decade or so, Thornton said, he hopes eventually to develop 3,200 home lots, which would be more houses than are now in the town of Signal Mountain.
"You're only 30 minutes from downtown Chattanooga and six minutes from the Kimball Walmart and Cracker Barrel," Thornton said.
With 7,000 baby boomers retiring every day, Thornton expects Jasper Highlands to appeal to many northern seniors interested in relocating to Tennessee for its milder weather and lower taxes and cost of living.
But Thornton, who has developed and sold properties throughout East Tennessee, Wyoming, Hawaii and Utah, insists the appeal of any site is the beauty of the land.
"It doesn't matter if it is Jackson Hole, Wyo., looking at the Tetons, the Hawaiian Islands overlooking the Pacific or these brow sites overlooking the Tennessee River and surrounding mountains, I always try to pick the best sites where people will always want to live," he said.