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The former EyeEar Optical building will be converted into a new sales and marketing office for Jasper Highlands.

As John "Thunder" Thornton readies the next phase of his 9,000-acre residential development atop Jasper Mountain, the Chattanooga developer is preparing to relocate and expand the sales, marketing and home building office for Jasper Highlands in the valley below.

Last Friday, Thornton's Thunder Enterprises purchased a vacant storefront in Kimball once used as an Eye Ear Optical store -- nicknamed by local critics as "Eyesore Optical" -- and has begun renovating the 8,000-square-foot structure for a new office and showroom.

"We've outgrown where we are now and, with what we are expecting next year, we simply need more room and people to accommodate the growth we anticipate," Thornton said Thursday. "This new location can serve as the front door of our community for many years to come."

Thornton said 2015 "will be the best year in lot sales and building that my company has experienced since 2006."

Thunder Enterprises has developed high-end residential properties in Wyoming, Utah, Hawaii and across East Tennessee in the past. But in the wake of the housing slump six years ago, Thornton has concentrated his development efforts on Jasper Highlands in Marion County, just a 25-mile drive from downtown Chattanooga.

Four years ago, Thornton moved Thunder Enterprises to a 2,000-square-foot office in Kimball at the foot of the mountain road he erected to reach the Jasper Mountain summit for development.

More than a decade ago, Thornton acquired property or options for nearly 9,000 acres of mountaintop property in Marion County. He has since spent more than $15 million building roads and utilities to open and and develop residential lots atop the mountain overlooking the Tennessee River and other nearby mountains.

More homes should soon start appearing on Jasper Mountain as new roads are opened up and utilities are extended to the lots, most of which range from two to five acres each. Next week, crews expect to complete water line extensions to the mountaintop lots as part of a $2 million water project for the development.

"The pipes are already in and the electricians are just putting in the last stages so that we can flush the lines by the end of next week so we can have water service," Thornton said.

So far, 160 lots have been sold in the first two phases of Jasper Highlands, although only a couple of houses are now occupied. Another couple of houses should be completed by the end of the month and another dozen are preparing to be built.

In the first quarter of 2015, a third phase with 228 more lots -- many on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River -- will be readied for sale.

The gated community features 21.3 miles of bluff frontage and more than 100 miles of nature trails. Highlands' residents will eventually have access to a community garden, open-air pavilion, tennis courts, soccer field, swimming pool and basketball court.

Thunder Enterprises should be operating in its new sales office being renovated in Kimball within 60 days and the renovation should be done by this spring, Thornton said.

Three months ago, the developer also launched a home building business, Jasper Highlands Homes LLC, to build homes in Jasper Highlands. The featured designs range from a 3,300-square-foot Highland Lodge house to a more modest 2,110-square-foot design known as "The Kimball."

"We're very optimistic about 2015 and where we are going," Thornton said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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