MAN — Members of the Man Town Council listened to information about the new development happening at the old Rita Mall at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday evening.
Known as the Appalachian Outpost, the development is proposed to increase tourism in the area with the building of 35 fully furnished cabins, a gas station, a live entertainment stage, restaurants, retail space, a taproom or something similar, ATV rental, kayak rental and more.
Local businesswoman Diana Barnette, along with her husband Ronnie, began negotiating buying the property in October 2017 – two months after the new four-lane highway to Man opened – and began developing it the following spring. She said she got the idea of the Outpost after visiting both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn. and thinking that the Man area can be similarly developed.
The cabins, she said, will be built in three sizes: 25 smaller ones that will sleep eight people, five medium-sized ones that will sleep about 14, and five large ones that will sleep about 22.
Anybody who has driven by the property has no doubt noticed that some of the old Rita Mall buildings have been demolished, while some have stayed. Barnette said certain buildings, such as the ones that used to house Ames and Fashion Bug, were saved for space that could house some retail businesses. She added that a fenced in area that used to be a garden center could potentially be turned into something like a Pigeon Forge style go-kart track.
The Outpost, she added, will hopefully not only bring in other tourists but boost the tourism the area already sees from the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System – as well as provide jobs and things to do.
"In order for us to be successful, we have to provide something for our local residents as well as tourists," Barnette said. "We can't just depend on tourism and we can't just depend on our local residents and then the more people we get in here, the more people may want to come and stay."
Barnette told the Man council members that her purpose of approaching them was to potentially partner with the town. She also brought preliminary sketches of what the development might look like once it's complete, but that the outcome could be completely different depending on what obstacles engineers may face during the building process.
"We don't intend on drawing business out of Man," Barnette said. "If we can get somebody to come up here and stay a week, they're not going to eat up there every day of the week. They're going to want to come down here and get something to eat. They're going to want to see what things you have, so I think it will be complimentary to your area."
The council members were receptive to the development and agreed to work with Barnette. "We appreciate you coming and we sure will work with you," Man Mayor Jim Blevins said.
"Southern West Virginia is its own area and it's a pie and we need to take that pie and grow it as big as we can," said council member and Hatfield-McCoy Trail deputy director John Fekete. "If people are staying in Man, they're going to go to Gilbert and spend money, they're going to go to Williamson to spend money. If they're staying at your place, they're going to come down here, so I think this mayor that we have, he will partner with you and we want to be friends and good neighbors. Anything you need from us, you give us a shout."
So far, four cabins are under roof and Barnette says hopefully eight or 10 will be for rent by the end of the year, as well as possibly one restaurant open. The bank estimated cost of the project is $9.2 million, but Barnette assured the council that she will get it done cheaper than that.
Before the council adjourned, Barnette announced that Gary Corns has been hired as the project's manager.
"He's a wealth of knowledge as far as rightaways and engineering and all that stuff and it's a big project and we want to make sure we do it right," Barnette said.
Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196 or follow him on Twitter @DVidovichLB.