Residential Developments To Be Part Of Country Crossing

This appeared in the Dothan Eagle - May 15, 2008

Ronnie Gilley stood before about 80 people vested in the tourism industry and spoke frankly about Country Crossing and the baby boomer retirees he hopes to attract.

"At County Crossing, Alabama, entertainment is our focus. We designed this as an entertainment/residential development," he said. "There will be spin-off residential developments."

That’s right. Country music fans can share a Country Crossing, Alabama home address with the likes of Lorrie Morgan and John Anderson. The country music destination first announced in February is to be constructed just south of Dothan and west of Highway 231 at Smithville Road.

"It will be commercial, mix use, high-end condos, and patio homes, to solicit that baby boomer generation," said Gilley, a builder and owner of Ronnie Gilley Enterprises. "They are the active, adult society that is health oriented."

Gilley downplayed his bingo cards Thursday, saying electronic bingo is simply being used as a jumpstart, although he acknowledges it certainly jump-started controversy as well.

Because the economy took a dive earlier this year, even secure investors became leery and lenders became all the more picky on their projects. That’s when the idea was conceived, Gilley said, to bring in an economic facilitator.

"The bingo pavilion will pole vault this project eight years ahead of schedule," he said.

But all national and regional marketing for the development, expected to open in the summer of 2009 in time for the second BamaJam Music & Arts Festival, will focus on what Country Crossing was always designed to be – a country music entertainment destination.

"We will not under any circumstances, be focused on bingo," said Gilley, who is developing the project under the corporation Resorts Development Group II LLC. "You will not hear it mentioned. We will focus on the entertainment industry – Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, John Anderson, Marty Stuart – that is what we will promote, because they will draw."

Gilley said it will be the only place of its kind where country fans can see "a multi-platinum selling country music entertainer performing there every weekend. And there is nowhere else in the world that can guarantee that. We can. You can't see that in Nashville or Branson."

Other points from Gilley:

Timeline: "We said two or three different times we would start in 90 days. We have had legislative issues time to time, but now we are waiting on the boundary survey. We were told it will be complete today. The land plan we have is hypothetical. I would say again, in 90 days, we will break ground."

What comes first: "We will do a simultaneous construction project. There are seven elements we are committed to. We are doing 10."

He said construction should begin first on the Tracy Lawrence Opera House because architectural plans for the building are nearly complete.

"I hope Phase 1 is such an enormous success … and will generate so much excitement, I believe Phase 2 is an all-encompassing deal. The momentum has led into other projects. Excitement breeds excitement."

Gilley said there is a 50-50 shot at a sports complex going in also. He would not elaborate.

Attracting retirees: Gilley said he expects many boomers to move to the Southeast United States, and as a developer, he sees the potential for new home construction growth.

"There is a massive baby boomer generation before us and theirs is an entertainment- and tourist-driven society that is 78 million strong," he said. "How can we get them here? Entertainment ranks in their top 5 criteria for a destination location."

Gilley invited those attending the annual meeting of the Dothan Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at Holiday Inn South, to come to BamaJam on June 5-7, where more than 30 top acts will perform in an open field located just off Coffee County Roads 167 and 51, about seven miles north of Enterprise.

By Debbie Ingram

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