The name is changing, but the dream of building an eye-popping mountaintop resort remains in what could be Walker County, Ga.'s biggest-ever single investment.
The 800 acres atop Lookout Mountain, formerly known as Canyon Ridge, has been recast as McLemore, according to development group Scenic Land Co.
Developers said a new vision has emerged to build a luxury 180-room resort hotel and conference center as part of a more than $100 million planned community on the site about a half hour from Chattanooga.
Scenic Land has completed its acquisition of the parcel that looks over a V-shaped site known as McLemore Cove. Nationally recognized firm Hart Howerton has been hired as master planner for the project.
"This place has had some dark days," said Duane Horton, president of Chattanooga-based Scenic Land, referring to troubles which have hit the Walker County project over more than two decades. "However, we never gave up faith for what it could become."
McLemore Cove in Walker County, Ga., is named for the late John McLemore, a Cherokee chief and U.S. Army captain. He settled in the cove to raise his family and farm the land.
Builders have been eyeing plans for a resort atop Lookout at least since 1995. Leadership struggles, the Great Recession, and a lawsuit settled in court earlier this decade were among the troubles following the project.
A golf course has been built, and upwards of 100 homes have been raised in the Canyon Ridge community next to the hotel site. Scenic Land has bought the last 67 residential lots and it sees The Residences at McLemore as a key component to the entire project. Residents will have access to golf, hiking, pools and high-end amenities, according to the developer.
The planned luxury resort and conference center, to be called The McLemore Hotel, is expected to draw people from throughout the region.
Roland Aberg of Hart Howerton's Minneapolis office said the site and hotel offer a "rare opportunity."
He said its trails, waterfalls and mountain-edge views will give guests a range of experiences.
Euan McGlashan of Atlanta-based Valor Properties, which will oversee hotel operations, said nature has played its part given the site's forests and vistas.
"Now it's up to us to complete the task," he said. "The overall guest experience will be nothing short of engaging, entertaining, educational."
Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield has said the project could be the largest single investment ever made there at one time.
Walker spokesman Joe Legge said the county is not investing any direct funds into the project.
"We're financially challenged right now," he said.
But the hotel will receive property tax abatement over 30 years if it meets targets such as a $100 million investment or more and 180 fulltime employees, Legge said. No property taxes would be paid for the first five years, and there would be a 90 percent abatement for the remaining 25, he said.
Property taxes will be paid on what's currently there, Legge said.
Horton said earlier this year that he's looking toward a 2019 opening of the hotel.
First, however, he said, there would be a major renovation of the golf course, which will start in spring of 2018 and it will then go private. Also, there will be work on a clubhouse to start next summer.
Horton said the hotel project is expected to land a brand before year's end. He's talking with financial institutions about funding the larger project, he said. Also, there's 90 more acres inside the gated project and another 435 acres nearby that can undergo development, Horton said.
"It's taken some time for this plan to come to fruition," he said. "We're excited about the impact it will provide for the local economy."
In 2015, a Hamilton County jury and judge awarded Horton $32 million after he accused a former business partner and a financial consultant of undermining his plan to build a luxury hotel on the Lookout Mountain tract.
Horton later settled for an undisclosed amount. He signed an agreement not to talk about the details of the case.
Other projects developed by Scenic Land include Hillocks Farm in Hixson, Brow Wood on Lookout Mountain and The Village of Oakbrook in East Brainerd.
Whitfield has said the county could bring in about $26.4 million in sales taxes on the McLemore project.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.