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Eastern Band of Cherokee in talks to bring European entertainment theme park to Smokies

Brenna McDermott
Knoxville News Sentinel
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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is discussing a potential partnership with an international theme park as part of a search for world-class entertainment to anchor a Sevier County development. 

Representatives of French entertainment company Puy du Fou are meeting in-person with tribe leaders this week.

The 200-acre development is located at Exit 407 off of Interstate 40, Tennessee's front-door entrance to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The property, called "The 407: Gateway to Adventure," is also the future home of a massive Buc-ee's travel center.

About 7,000 persons attend the circus games in the "Triumph's Sign" live show on August 16, 2013 in the Parc of the Puy du Fou in Les Epesses, western France.

Knoxville-based OE Experiences is leading the tribe's global search for "ideal experiences to anchor the entertainment-focused aspects of the development," according to the release. 

It's a good time to be investing in Sevier County. The national park shattered attendance records in 2021 and Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are top U.S. family vacation destinations. 

The development is owned and operated by Kituwah, LLC, a subsidiary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

What is Puy du Fou? 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians purchased 198 acres that fronts the south side of Interstate 40 in Sevier County earlier this year.

Based in Western France, Puy du Fou is known for theatrical performances and immersive shows inspired by history. It has parks in France and Spain and will premiere a new show in Shanghai this year.

Philippe de Villiers, who ran as a nationalist candidate in the 2007 French presidential election, founded the organization in 1978. 

One immersive show at its park in France, "Le Mystere de La Perouse," takes guests aboard a scientific expedition on the high seas in which they feel the movement of the vessel and spray from the ocean while venturing through the interactive exhibit. 

Real estate deals:Almost $6 billion of Knox County property changed hands in 2021.

Tourism:A major sports event is coming to Knoxville, a 'Super Bowl' equivalent

TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice named Puy du Fou the No. 2 amusement park in in the world in 2020. The Themed Entertainment Association named a Puy du Fou show the best in the world in 2016 and 2017. 

More then 2.3 million people visited the original French theme park in 2019, according to a company press kit. 

What is the 407 development?

Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians speaks during a ground breaking ceremony announcing the first phase of 200-acres of land being developed at Sevierville’s Exit 407, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Kituwah LLC are partnering on the project.

Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, previously told Knox News the tribe will build retail, hotels and restaurants on 198 acres south of the interstate. That property is where  Buc-ee's will be built. 

The tribe also bought 122 acres on the north side of the interstate and adjacent to the Kodak Smokies Stadium. The tribe spent about $21 million on the two properties combined.

Project partners have estimated the property could attract 6.7 million visitors in the first full year of operation after the first phase of development is complete. 

Buc-ee's is a Texas-based chain of travel centers known for clean bathrooms and barbecue. 

Business Growth and Development Editor Brenna McDermott can be reached at brenna.mcdermott@knoxnews.com. Support our local news efforts by becoming a Knox News subscriber

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