For the first time in several years, executives from Lookout Mountain's McLemore luxury resort hosted a town hall to talk about the project's progress and opportunities for Walker County.
Duane Horton, president of Chattanooga-based Scenic Land Co., the project's developer, said McLemore is likely to result in $1 billion of development, including a 245-room hotel, two golf courses, conference center, million-dollar homes, restaurants and other amenities.
"I believe the opportunities have proven to be larger than what we even thought," Horton said to about 30 people at the LaFayette-Walker County Public Library on Monday night. He said he grew up in Walker County and went to elementary school about two miles from one of the resort's clubhouses "in the heart" of McLemore Cove.
Horton invited community members to visit the resort for lunch at its restaurant, The Creag, and enjoy the resort's mountaintop views, which he called "the star of the show."
About 100 employees are on the payroll currently, he said, but officials expect to employ more than 400 in two years as the project develops. Some jobs are available now, but Marc Bauer, managing director of McLemore Club, said the first of three job fairs will be held next fall, and the resort is building a database of people for when employment opportunities arise.
Horton said McLemore will offer some of the best-paid jobs in the area, some already paying more than $100,000, . Some servers are making more than $60,000 right now, he said.
The resort needs the community's help to hire, Horton said.
"We're going to be making a strong push to really get it out there and let people know ... to help us fill these positions," Horton said.
David Pequay lives in McLemore Cove in the valley below the resort. He said he never expected to look up and see a massive new hotel on Lookout Mountain. He asked Horton if the hotel was working with local vendors, if construction affected the streams running down the mountain, and if management had plans to give back to the local community.
Horton said resort management has worked with several local vendors, including an excavator company, and that they would love to work with any local vendors that can meet their needs. Horton said he plans to add a vendor and local partner page to the resort's website to better connect with the community.
Two streams running off the mountain won't be touched, Horton said, and construction would only dam natural runoff that recharges quickly. All the work has been permitted by rigorous state and county regulations, he said.
Resort management has given out some scholarships already, Horton said, but he added the resort is in a heavy growth phase and plans to do more for the community in the future.
Along with providing jobs, Horton said he expects the hotel, named The Cloudland Lodge at McLemore, to generate $2 million a year in sales taxes when it opens. He also expects the project to generate millions in sales tax on construction materials for the hotel and home construction. He said the hotel is 50% complete and will open in early 2024.
Shannon Whitfield, chairman of the Walker County Board of Commissioners, said the only hotels or motels in the county are in the cities. "So we decided if we're going to add a hotel, let's start out with a five-star," Whitfield said.
Resort developers promised 180 jobs for the county initially, Whitfield said, so the 400 expected jobs well exceeds expectations.
New homes are being sold, Horton said, with one example for sale at $1.74 million and another for $1.3 million. Residential lots are selling in the $500,000 price range. The most expensive lot recently sold for $650,000.
Bauer, the McLemore Club's managing director, said in a phone interview that there's quite bit of construction on the property, and a 100-unit golf villa is scheduled to break ground at the beginning of 2023. Beyond the houses being built now, another residential phase is being planned across the street from the property.
Also planned is a medical center, recreational facilities, event lawns, more dining, a retail center, a hardware store, convenience store and amphitheater.
"This is a great project, and it's a team effort from everybody involved," state Sen. Jeff Mullis, whose 53rd District covers much of Northwest Georgia, said during Monday's town hall.