Dolly Parton talks about the $300 million expansion planned for her theme park. AP photo.
PIGEON FORGE — If her hair and bra caught fire, it’d be a four-day fire. That’s the latest ride-related quip from superstar and theme-park impresario Dolly Parton.
Parton made the joke Wednesday as she announced a $300 million expansion and improvement plan for Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country — including a 300-room resort, set to open in 2015 on a 100-acre plot just north of the water park.
That’s more than has been invested in Dollywood since the park opened nearly 30 years ago. Parton announced plans to open Dollywood in 1985 and the park opened for its first season in 1986.
On Wednesday she said in the years since more than $250 million has been invested in Dollywood and Splash Country.
Opening the “world class” resort on site 30 years after that initial announcement will be her dream come true, Parton said, and she promised the decor would have “more taste than I do.”
Parton said about half the $300 million will be spent on improvements and some major new rides at Dollywood and Splash Country over the next 10 years.
The first, FireChaser Express — a dual-launch coaster suitable for smaller riders and designed with families in mind — will open next year.
It’s being billed as “the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster” and is scheduled to open March 2014 with a minimum height requirement of 39 inches.
Parton said the ride’s accessibility to younger children — around 4-years-old — is her favorite thing about FireChaser’s opening next year, because she can imagine how excited those kids will be to ride their first “big” ride at Dollywood.
It was while talking about FireChaser — described as casting riders in the hero role of firefighters — that Parton made the joke about a fire in her hair and bra.
FireChaser, the new Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, and all the other improvements will “make this area and Dollywood one of the biggest and most popular destinations in the whole country,” Parton said.
Featuring a variety of accommodations, DreamMore Resort’s theme will “celebrate the iconic Southern gathering spot, beckoning to a time when families and friends sipped iced tea, enjoyed homemade ice cream and socialized,” according to a description provided by Dollywood. “Centered on the rich traditions of storytelling, family and togetherness, the resort will feature many special touches including family sanctuaries like fire pits, swings and hammocks plus story spots scattered throughout the grounds.”
“When I was growing up life revolved around the front porch,” Parton said. “And, of course, that’s where we laughed together. It’s where we cried together. And it’s where we dared to dream. That’s where I dreamed some of my biggest dreams. That’s how it all started. And I wanted a place like the front porch for families today.”
Parton said Dollywood’s DreamMore is “the first phase of our resort. We hope to develop several resorts.”
But Parton said Dollywood’s aim is to draw more visitors to the region, not pull would-be guests from existing businesses in the area.
According to information released during Parton’s announcement Wednesday, The Dollywood Co. commissioned an independent economic impact study which projects Dollywood and its hospitality investments will add $150 million annually to the local economy, more than $7 million in state and local taxes will be generated by the company’s investments over the 10-year period — and approximately 2,500 jobs will be created, primarily in the hospitality and construction industries, due to the addition of the DreamMore Resort.
Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Commissioner of Tourism Susan Whitaker, and Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster joined Parton for the announcement.
All three lauded Dollywood, Parton, and her Dollywood partners the Herschend family, for what Haslam called “this incredible investment in our state.”
Haslam said tourism is one of Tennessee’s top industries, and Parton one of the state’s best ambassadors.
Around the world people know and appreciate who Parton is and she “has become the state’s daughter,” Haslam said.
Whitaker, who noted Haslam earlier this year increased her department’s budget by $8 million to promote Tennessee tourism in markets not targeted before, said Parton is one of the smartest businesswomen ever.
Whitaker said Tennessee has had a great year in tourism, and that $1.6 billion in visitor spending came from Sevier County alone.
Teaster said local revenues broke records last year and with Parton’s announcement they definitely will increase.
“As goes Dollywood, so goes tourism in the area,” Teaster said. “(Parton) is genuine. She’s real. We absolutely could not do it without her and we love her.”
“Dolly’s dreams have carried her around the world,” said The Dollywood Co. President Craig Ross. “Now, families from all corners of the world can come and stay at her DreamMore Resort and experience the one-of-a-kind hospitality that has brought international acclaim to her Dollywood properties.”
Showcasing design features and décor elements that celebrate the area’s natural beauty, plans for Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort include an indoor/outdoor resort pool complex, a spa, and a full-service farmhouse-style restaurant. It also will feature a family activities center where guests can secure reservations for a variety of adventures centered around wholesome fun, including hikes in neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park.