Pigeon Forge optimistic for 2021 despite pandemic

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WVLT) – Pigeon Forge city leaders delivered their annual State of the City address and revealed just how the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the city’s income in 2020.

In a virtual meeting, Mayor David Wear, said the city had a 12 percent loss in gross revenue in 2020 vs 2019. But he says he’s optimistic with the rebound in tourism Pigeon Forge has seen in the past several months.

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“The pandemic disrupted the Pigeon Forge community like nothing we’ve ever experienced. Our communities has been blessed, though. We have grown closer together, we build upon trust we had one another, we’ve experienced what makes this a great place to live work and visit,” said Mayor Wear.

According to the city’s tourism director, Leon Downey, the rebound in 4th quarter of 2020 was a direct result in advertising. The city and state both bumped up advertising with a “visit safe” message. Downey said lodging was down 21 percent, but saw a 7 percent increase in first-time visitors. Of those visiting, according to a city survey, 53 percent were influenced by the city’s advertising.

At the LeConte Center, the city’s event center, 17 of 37 events planned for 2020 happened. The city has 31 events planned for 2021 with five having already occurred.

In public works, the city announced the addition of 2,000 parking spaces for the LeConte Center and a connecting pedestrian bridge are now complete. This leads to the next project which is underway, the final phase of construction for Jake Thomas Road.

Jake Thomas Road is designed to carry visitors from Teaster Lane to Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort Entrance. Crews are already moving dirt and trees, you’ll see the first bridge at Veterans Boulevard start to be built soon.

“You’ll be able to ride on 10-foot asphalt from Pigeon Forge all the way to Sevierville. Run, walk, ride a bicycle. It’s the first of its kind that’s been in the plans for a long, long time,” said Mark Miller, Public Works Director for Pigeon Forge.

Another construction project creates a whole new experience for the city’s 3 million trolley riders. A new mass transit center is expected to open this summer.

“We want you to be on the trolleys, on the trams, please come see the new building, come in, if I’m around I’d like to show it to you. I’m extremely proud, can’t wait for it to open and I’ve been told that that will probably be right after the 4th of July,” said an enthusiastic Lynn Wilhoite, Transit Director.

Whilhoite says the IT department is installing the necessary components to create a mobile feature where riders can buy tickets and track where the trolleys are. These changes will be rolled out with the opening of the transit center.

Nearly all departments saw an increase in something. The library for example, saw an 11 percent increase in checkouts of its digital collection in 2020.

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