Rocky Top brand could topple town title

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Lake City closer to changing name, luring big tourism enterprises

By Dwane Wilder

LAKE CITY—A group of local businessmen are moving forward with plans to build a coal-mining theme park in Lake City. 

Those plans also include changing the historic town’s name to Rocky Top — the title of a popular country song written in the late 1960s and now widely known as the unofficial fight song for University of Tennessee athletic teams.

Anderson County Commissioner Tim Isbel — who represents Rocky Top Marketing and Manufacturing — is the mover and shaker of the group. He said most folks have been very supportive of the move toward the Rocky Top brand.

“Ninety eight percent of the people have been receptive,” said Isbel.

“Right away, the name Rocky Top is going to start drawing in revenue.”

The potential new name comes from the Rocky Top Bottling Company, owned by Knoxville developer Buddy Warren, who chose Lake City a couple of months ago as the site of a theme park because of its future coal mining museum and a close proximity to two exits on heavily traveled Interstate 75.

Isbel points to another period in time when the town went through a name change to reflect a more progressive era in American history. In 1939, what was then known as Coal Creek became Lake City after TVA’s Norris Dam first brought electricity to the region.

However, changing the name from Lake City to Rocky Top will not be a simple as it sounds, according to Lake City Councilman Michael Lovely. He said that, more than likely, the name change will be put on the agenda for the November city council meeting. If approved, the proposal would then be taken to the state legislature for consideration during its next session beginning in January. If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, the proposal would likely have to come back before city council for a final vote sometime next spring.

“Without state approval you can’t even bring it back to the people,” said Lovely.

An accompanying brewery and distillery have been put on the back burner due to a tragic car accident late last month that landed the 80-year-old Warren in the intensive care unit at UT Medical Center. However, plans for the theme park and related attractions are moving forward.

Isbel said one of Rocky Top’s major attractions will be a ridgetop water park that will be built on 17 acres owned by the city on the old Sharp property near the water tower. Also in the works: a 3-D animated theater, restaurant and grocery store, live music hall and community playhouse and a sports complex. He said either the theme park or the sports complex will be located on the Campbell County side of Lake City.

Isbel also said a designer from Disney has been working with the group on various related projects, including the coal mining museum located on what will become Coal Creek Square adjacent to city hall.

“It’s a blessing for this community, which has usually been associated with drugs or poverty. Now it’s jobs and a future,” said Isbel.

He said a major selling point for Rocky Top will be interstate exits at Caryville, Lake City, Norris/Clinton and Raccoon Valley, which offer quick and easy access to Lake City.

“It will help build up [US] 25W the way it used to be before the interstate,” said Isbel.

“Caryville is going to be the key to this thing. The Caryville exit is going to be the first exit you get off to access everything coming in.”

The developers and partners of Rocky Top are inviting the public to a Bean and Cornbread social at 6 p.m. on Nov. 1 at the Main Street Family Life Center in downtown Lake City, where they will unveil their plans and answer questions about the project.