The Bottom Line: Destination resort proposed for Red River Gorge

Resort would include a 170-room lodge with a full-service spa, restaurant, distillery and/or brew pub and more

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

According to Stantec, the resort would create 500-plus jobs.

A 4½-star destination resort in the Red River Gorge region is being proposed as part of a comprehensive tourism strategy for the area.

Several years ago, the Kentucky Chamber formed a task force of key Eastern Kentucky business leaders to look at how they could spur economic growth in the area. Over several years, the chamber formed Red River Economic Development (RRED), LLC, which focused on looking at the feasibility of a destination resort in the Red River Gorge region.

On Tuesday, planning consultants for RRED unveiled the strategy for the Red River Gorge region during a virtual town hall meeting which includes a 4½-star destination resort as an anchor for future economic growth in the region.

RRED sponsored the planning process with a combined $1 million federal-state grant and hired the consulting firm, Stantec, to produce the plan. A local advisory board consisting of 15 area business leaders, environmentalists, rock-climbers, hikers, cabin owners and four county judge-executives met monthly with Stantec’s planning team and provided local input.

While the original planning process called for community forums and workshops to gather ideas, only two public meetings were held before COVID-19 restrictions halted in-person meetings. The pandemic delayed the planning process for two months while planners developed an alternative plan for public engagement. RRED agreed to host four virtual town hall meetings and Stantec created a dedicated website for gathering ideas and comments.

The regional tourism plan for Lee, Menifee, Powell and Wolfe counties calls for the development of various tourism attractions, an integrated trail network, a four-county tourism coordinating group, joint marketing of the area and the creation of environmental and cultural protections for an area immediately surrounding the geologically designated Red River Gorge.

The proposed destination resort is recommended as a high-end resort that would include a 170-room lodge with a full-service spa, a full-service restaurant, a distillery and/or brew pub, conference facilities, a “gathering lawn” for outdoor events and live performances, an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, villas and a limited number of private residences. According to Stantec, the resort would create 500-plus jobs (300-plus on the resort property and 200-plus spin-off jobs created in the surrounding area).

The Stantec report has been posted on RRED’s project website, www.redriverky.com and includes a detailed report on existing conditions for tourism in the region, the Tourism Strategies and Destination Resort Masterplan and specific reports on topics such as infrastructure and tourism incentives that might apply to implementation of the plan.

RRED’s Board of Directors includes five business leaders and four county judge executives from the Red River Gorge region, its nonprofit, charitable, etc. The group will spin-off as an independent nonprofit, away from the Kentucky Chamber, effective Oct. 1.  The board of directors and their goals will remain the same.