It is said that those surrounded by beauty can lose a sense of the beauty around them. The motto of the city of Sevierville, Tennessee is “Your Hometown in the Smokies.” It’s Wal-Mart’s hometown too. Superstore #578 is located on 1414 Parkway in Sevierville. The city, which has a population of only 15,000, already has 4 Wal-Mart supercenters within twenty miles. But work is now underway to put another supercenter within the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains, which city officials describe as “the dominant and most beautiful natural feature in Tennessee.” But more attractive to Wal-Mart is the fact that Tennessee has no state income tax. As a result, the sales tax is quite high, however: 9.5% in Sevierville. But the city gets 13 million visitors annually, which is the business Wal-Mart wants. Sevierville boasts that since 1998 is has added a Bass Pro Shop, Belk Dept. Store, Blockbuster Video, CVS Pharmacy, Kroger Store, Lowe’s, Staples, and Walgreen’s. Despite all this chain store invasion, the city says it has a “busy downtown,” and unlike its ‘sister’ cities, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Sevierville has ” broad tracts of land are available for commercial growth.” It was announced this week in The Mountain Press that another Wal-Mart supercenter is coming to little Sevierville. The developers of the Dumplin Creek shopping center plan to open a 180,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter plus another 300,000 s.f. of retail space by the spring of 2010. First Commercial Real Estate, which brags of its 3,000,000 s.f. Turkey Creek development in Knoxville, Tennessee, has created a website to promote this 200 acre retail complex in Sevierville. At www.5881000.com, you can watch the ridgeline being blown up to make way for the Wal-Mart. “Fire in the hole,” the screen says, while the top of the ridge is dynamited. The project’s slogan is “The first stop in the Smokies.” “Positioned as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” the website says, “Dumplin Creek is the first retail experience for millions of annual visitors… This booming retail corridor is the primary access for visitors to Dollywood… and the Great Smoky Mountains.” At the end of the video which blows up the ridge, a voice intones, “Dumplin Creek is destined to be one of the most significant pieces of retail real estate in East Tennessee.” According to one local source, First Commercial got tax incremental financing (TIF) for this deal, in which some of the sales taxes generated by the project are pumped back into the developer’s pocket to pay for road or site development work. It’s a form of corporate welfare for the world’s largest retail chain.
With a population base of 15,000 people, there is no need for a second Wal-Mart supercenter in Sevierville. The video of the ridge being blown up for another Wal-Mart is a disturbing experience. The concept of a discount store being your “first stop in the Smokies” is also a pathetic thought. Clearly Sevierville has lost sense of what it means to be a steward of a beautiful place. By ringing the Smokies with big boxes, officials in Sevierville are doing their tourists no favors. Anyone coming through Sevierville already can get cheap Chinese goods at the existing Wal-Mart. Why any community in a major tourist destination would double up on Wal-Marts is hard to fathom. Because there is no state income tax, cities and towns in Tennessee must dig and claw for sales tax. The result is the destruction of the natural setting, and the leveling-off of the landscape to allow single-story, flat-roofed dead pieces of architecture. Readers are urged to leave a message for Sevierville Mayor Bryan Atchley by calling the city’s administrative offices at 865-453-5504. Tell Mayor Atchley: “Your city’s big box growth plans are burning a hole in the Smokies. Blowing up a ridge for another supercenter has to rank right up there as one of the great environmental mistakes in Tennessee. The only “smoke” in the Smokies appears to be raised by developer’s dynamite. It’s time for Sevierville to stop measuring its progress by the square footage of malls, and instead protect the beauty that brings millions of tourists your way every year. Putting a cap on the size of retail buildings in the future would be a good start, and make the Sprawl Creek projects a thing of the past.”