Fall Creek Falls State Park employees learned Monday that the state is taking a significant formal step today in the plan to demolish, rebuild and privatize the park’s inn, restaurant and conference center, reports the Times-Free Press.
A request for proposals on the project is scheduled to be posted on the state’s website this morning, officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation confirmed Tuesday.
TDEC officials met with the park’s full-time employees at the conference center Monday to discuss how the building project and subsequent privatization will affect the 48 full-time hospitality workers at the park.
“People are mad,” Van Buren County Mayor Greg Wilson said. “The employees are mad.”
TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said Tuesday the state plans to identify its top proposal in late March or early April and that demolition of the 44-year-old building could begin by next December.
Hill called it a $22 million project that will benefit the local, regional and state economy as a company enters to operate the park with “a private sector business model.”
Opponents of the project argue that state parks are not intended to be profit centers and that extensive renovation at the inn would be a more cost-effective solution to falling occupancy rates.
Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Randy Stamps said Tuesday that he is “mystified” the state wants to tear the inn down, adding he expects there to be legislative hearings about the matter when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes next year…. “I do know there are some legislators who had no clue the money allotted to parks in the budget would be used this way.”