At the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the town of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., only claims about 6,000 permanent residents, but 14,000 lodging units exist on any given day. But when it comes to visitors, without exaggeration, over 10 million people descend upon or pass through the East Tennessee vacation town each year, with about 2 million staying overnight.
As a result, the Pigeon Forge area bustles with groups all year long, both gargantuan and intimate-sized. On the large end of the event spectrum, one finds the LaConte Center, with 232,000 square feet of exhibit and breakout space, a venue that only came into being four years ago. The center handles large-scale conventions and tournaments, but only hosts one event at a time.
“When you rent our building, you have it full-focus and you’re not competing against anybody else in the building with you,” said LaConte Facility Manager Phil Campbell. “We do that for a couple of reasons. We’re structured to go after some of the larger-attended events so we don’t compete with our hotels in town. They have the size of groups that fit into their space and we focus on what’s above that.”
And it works. Just to rattle off sports-related gatherings, in its short existence the LaConte Center has already catered to cheerleading events and a 96-team basketball tournament, plus gymnastics and volleyball events. Its first wrestling tournament is scheduled for this upcoming Christmas season. The Smoky Mountain Jeep Invasion recently attracted some 4,200 Jeeps and nearly 10,000 attendees.
Meanwhile, if a group only requires, say, 1,000 people, numerous schemes are possible. Downsizing from there, theaters or outdoor spaces regularly accommodate a variety of smaller, more intimate-sized meetings.
Most of all, with the Great Smoky Mountains right next door, groups can quickly bail from their indoor business and experience the wondrous landscape, either for outdoor meetings or for nature-themed pursuits. Everything becomes part of the destination, part of the Pigeon Forge experience.
“It’s interesting to be in the car with people that haven’t been here,” Campbell said. “They get overwhelmed and say, ‘I didn’t know there was this much stuff here to do,’ and it surprises them, on their first visit, with what’s actually here.”