Tillis fights to save Horton Park Inn

Monday, March 6, 2017

Rick Tillis is not going to let a proposal to demolish the inn at Henry Horton State Park pass without a fight.

“We are vehemently opposed to that,” Tillis said, the State Representative for the 92nd District which encompasses Marshall County.

At issue is a proposal from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees the state park system, to tear down the inn at the park.

TDEC’s requested budget for 2017-18 includes $10.05 million for capital improvements at Henry Horton. The funds would be used to demolish the inn and restaurant at the park and build a visitor center and new restaurant.

The proposal does not include rebuilding the park’s hotel room facilities, although the park’s cabin lodging would not apparently be effected.

Tillis will be meeting with representatives from TDEC, county officials, and Horton volunteers next week to try and reach a solution that would keep an inn as part of the park.

Tillis said that he has received a good bit of feedback from constituents opposed to the proposal, which would leave the northern half of Marshall County without any other motel space.

Early reports suggested that the budget would contain up to $18 million earmarked for the demolition and reconstruction of all of the hospitality facilities in the park, but when the budget was actually released, the inn was not included.

“I think they are missing an opportunity to turn it back into something thriving and beneficial,” said Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett.

Proponents of the park point to the installation of high-speed internet service at Henry Horton as a selling point for the park facilities to serve as a business and meeting center for the region

TDEC has requested $58 million for capital projects at state parks in next year’s state budget.

Among the other proposals are $4.29 million for a visitor center and other construction at Rocky Fork State Park, over $23 million for the demolition and reconstruction of the inn, a restaurant, and conference and meeting areas at Paris Landing State Park, and just under $12 million for the renovation of hospitality facilities at Pickwick Landing State Park.

Years of deferring maintenance and upgrades for hospitality facilities in the parks have left many feeling dated and substandard to commercial options. The condition of the properties contributes to what TDEC sees as the underperformance of their hospitality portfolio.

The state issued a request for proposal in 2015 directed at private vendors to bid on taking over the hospitality operations, the restaurants, hotels, and golf courses, at Tennessee State Parks.

The state did not receive any bids at all, with the most cited reason for the lack of interest being the overall condition of the properties.

This year’s state budget contains $22 million to demolish and rebuild the hotel and restaurant at Fall Creek Falls State Park, the system’s busiest property in terms of visits.

Initially, the state planned to outsource operations at Fall Creek Falls, but that proposal was postponed by the state on Wednesday.