Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 29, 2022

Resort, marina helps launch Jackson County tourism

Wildwood Resort and Marina has several housing options, from Airstreams and tiny houses to the Lakeside Inn and Wildwood Lodge. It also hosts weddings, corporate retreats and concerts. - Photograph provided

Jackson County Mayor Randy Heady describes much of the past 20 years as “lean” for his community.

As a former county commissioner, he’s had a front-row seat for more than a decade as the county has worked to meet budgetary challenges, so when the state offered up the notion of using tourism to generate revenue, and came to town to talk specifics, he was all ears.

“They suggested we pass an occupancy tax, which was no problem because unlike a property or wheel tax, that wasn’t going to be on our people,” says Heady, whose county is just northeast of Cookeville with Gainesboro as its county seat. “And we’d never had state officials, department heads, come here and sit down to talk about something like this.

“As a county mayor, I’ve got to look at what will make a difference to our community, and a lot of times it’s grand ideas that will take years to implement. This was different, in that we would have the tax in place, so if we built tourism we could see revenue quickly.”

He leveraged his acquaintance with Nashvillians John and Natasha Deane, who had purchased the old Granville Marina in 2018 and – after significant renovations and expansions – reopened it as Wildwood Resort & Marina. He saw the property as a sensible launching spot for an effort to capitalize on the county’s place on the Cumberland River to make it a nature-oriented tourism destination and more.

“We have the scenery, which is easy to sell, and working with the rural tourism team we really got into a whirlwind of activity to develop the whole county as a destination,” Heady says. “Right about that time, the Deanes finished a $3 million investment into improving Wildwood. And then the pandemic came, and people wanted a safe, not-crowded place to go, so we really blossomed in 2020.

“Money from the state let our chamber of commerce do some advertising and video creation that got blasted out, and our people who had short-term rentals started getting bookings.”

The prospect of free money was certainly a lure, but it wouldn’t have done much good had it not come with training and tools for long-term tourism development, Heady says. Instead, the county got the guidance on investing these funds into ongoing growth by way of supporting events and festivals, such as with the Dailey & Vincent Cumberland River Musicfest.

“We sponsored it, because we were shown what the resulting economic impact of that investment would be,” Heady adds. “The county commission was willing some money, as was our chamber and the state. We wound up with a $300,000 impact for our local community.

“And I think it’s going to be even bigger next year.

“That’s huge,” Heady continues. “In 2018, we might have gotten $20,000. Now we have new restaurants in downtown Gainesboro and Granville, places like the Bull & Thistle Pub, a five-star Irish pub, that give those who live here new places to go and enjoy. Tourism growth has been really life-changing for our little community.”