Lookout Mountain, Georgia, golf course will seek state sales tax incentives through Tourism Development Act

A newly renovated golf course and proposed hotel and convention center atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia could see significant sales tax incentives once the multimillion-dollar project is completed.

The developers behind the new McLemore golf course are hoping to secure a state-level sales tax break through the Georgia Tourism Development Act.

Scenic Land Co., whose company took over the former Canyon Ridge development two years ago, officially announced it will apply for the sales tax break at Tuesday night's Walker County Commission meeting.

William Duane Horton, president of Chattanooga-based Scenic Land Co., said the tax break will help defray the project's cost after it expands with a 245-room hotel conference center and destination resort.

The tax break would allow Scenic Land Co. to recover either the total amount of the increased sales and use taxes "over previous uses" over a 10-year period, or 2.5% of the project's total cost, whichever is lower.

Horton said Walker County residents would not be paying the tax break for the project.

The original version of the law, passed in 2011, was rejected by state agencies for various technical problems - such as local governments receiving less sales tax revenue for their schools because that money would go to the attractions - that would have made it nearly impossible to implement.

The law was revised to ensure that local governments get their full share of the taxes. It was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in spring 2013.

The law requires that to earn the incentives, a project costing a minimum of $1 million must pull at least 25% of its business from outside the state after its third year and create a positive impact on the local and state economy while not competing with existing state businesses.

In 2014, the family-owned amusement park Lake Winnepesaukah, located in Rossville, was the first tourist attraction to qualify for tax incentives under the act and receive the tax break.

In July, Horton and his team announced that the Lookout Mountain site was getting a nearly $8 million clubhouse on the bluff with a new restaurant, pro shop and other amenities.

That same month, the McLemore course opened after an upgrade of all 18 golf holes. The 18th hole, perched along the eastern bluff of Lookout Mountain overlooking McLemore Cove and Pigeon Mountain, was relocated to make room for the new 10,000-square-foot clubhouse scheduled to open next spring.

Horton said the clubhouse is the first of several new projects planned for nearly 800 acres he controls atop Lookout Mountain in Walker County.

The scenic site has undergone legal fights, ownership changes and a personal bankruptcy over the past two decades. But Horton said he has attracted more than 100 investors for the clubhouse and golf course, which has more than 200 members, and the residential development has sold about half of the 300 residential lots with nearly 80 homes now in the development.

Within the next month, Scenic Land will put out for prospective investors an even more ambitious plan to build the convention and conference center, also on the bluff of the mountaintop development.

The developers have tentatively secured a franchise for the convention hotel to be one of the first mountaintop resort hotels picked for Hilton's Curio Collection. Horton estimates the hotel, which will include convention facilities and multiple restaurants, could represent an investment of up to $180 million, making it the most expensive hotel and meeting complex ever built in metropolitan Chattanooga.

Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield signed the resolution Tuesday night, indicating the county's support for the project before the state considers McLemore for the tax break.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.