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A 900-acre destination resort in the Red River Gorge area? A concept is in the works

Louisville Courier-Journal logo Louisville Courier-Journal 10/20/2019 Ben Tobin, Louisville Courier Journal
a tree in a forest: A hiker makes his way under rock formations in Red River Gorge Geological Area. June 30, 2013 © Alton Strupp A hiker makes his way under rock formations in Red River Gorge Geological Area. June 30, 2013

A destination resort may be on its way to roughly 900 acres of Eastern Kentucky's most popular attractions.

Red River Economic Development, a nonprofit group in the charitable arm of the state's chamber of commerce, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, is seeking to create a master plan for a resort in the Red River Gorge region.

The envisioned resort would be a public-private partnership and include a 150- to 175-room lodge that would accommodate families and meetings year-round, 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space and wedding venues, among other amenities, according to a concept paper.

But don't get too excited or too angry about the resort just yet: the concept might not become a reality, and construction wouldn't start for a few years, said David Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

"This it is not a project yet," Adkisson told The Courier Journal. "There is not a set of blueprints. It is a concept."

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Back in 2013, the chamber assembled a task force of business leaders to analyze the economic decline of Kentucky's coal industry. The resort would serve as a catalyst to increase tourism-related developments and other economic activity in Eastern Kentucky, according to Adkisson.

In a report prepared for the chamber in 2013 on the potential for tourism development in Eastern Kentucky, California-based infrastructure firm AECOM said the region "lacks a critical mass of visitor activities" but "has the potential to become an appealing regional destination for visitors of all kinds."

For Adkisson, a resort in the Red River Gorge area could serve as a destination, saying that the area has a positive brand identity, four-lane access to its front door and serves as a "natural gateway to the rest of Kentucky." He added that Kentucky doesn't have a destination resort.

Proponents of the destination resort have three potential locations in mind. The targeted location, which the group has obtained an option through mid-2020, is 891 acres of contiguous land privately owned by a local businessman in Slade, which is off the Mountain Parkway and near Natural Bridge State Resort Park. It also lies outside of the geologically protected Red River Gorge, Adkisson said.

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The other two locations, suggested in a 2017 report to the chamber by HVS, a New York-based global consulting and services organization, are between the targeted location and the state park. One of them is owned by the U.S. Forestry Service, according to the concept paper.

The project has secured $500,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission to conduct a master plan, which will be matched by state funds, Adkisson said.

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By mid-2020, Red River Economic Development hopes to have a completed masterplan, which includes a final site analysis, to show to the development community and to investors. If all goes right and a firm is picked to develop the resort, construction could begin in 2022.

Adkisson said he did not want to speculate on when the resort would open and how much construction would cost.

In the meantime, the Red River Economic Development Group is trying to solicit public feedback. The group held its first public town hall Thursday at the Woodland Center in Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

The meeting, which had about 125 attendees, was "very open and very civil," according to Adkisson, who added that people were mainly worried that the project was starting without their input.

However, the destination resort is far from set in stone.

“This is a very speculative venture," Adkisson said. "We hope we can make something happen, but I’d say it is a 50-50 chance."

Contact Ben Tobin at bjtobin@gannett.com and 502-582-4181 or follow on Twitter @TobinBen. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: subscribe.courier-journal.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: A 900-acre destination resort in the Red River Gorge area? A concept is in the works

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