Johnson: Casino holds key to further Pinnacle development

BRISTOL, Va. — A casino holds the key to a proposed $500 million development on the Virginia portion of The Pinnacle, developer Steve Johnson said.

Johnson continues to urge the Virginia General Assembly to consider a proposed $250 million casino and hotel that would be operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, as part of his plans to develop 350 acres in Washington County, Virginia.

Lawmakers are currently considering legislation to allow casinos in five cities and the city of Bristol already has a proposed casino project for the former Bristol Mall. It is the lone Southwest Virginia location eligible for a casino license, so legislation would have to be changed for Johnson’s project to even be considered.

Since the two sites are less than three miles apart, there has been some public speculation about why Johnson doesn’t build the water park and hotel, music amphitheater and other proposed amenities and not try to compete with the proposed Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino.
“I don’t think it works that way. That’s like saying I could have put Bass Pro at the Bristol Mall and the remainder of The Pinnacle remains where it is,” Johnson told the Bristol Herald Courier this week, referring to the commercial development on the Tennessee portion of the property off Interstate 81’s Exit 74. “That just doesn’t work.”

Johnson said creating synergy is the key to large-scale commercial development.

“It’s critical mass and synergy and traffic patterns and pent-up demand,” he said. “The idea that you have thousands and thousands of people at this hotel casino, and they can simply walk to the music venue or walk to the golf venue or walk between the casino and the hotel water park — you can’t do that when you have to cross Interstate 81. That’s what we’re talking about — across the street — and the street is I-81.”

A casino is essential to attracting crowds because it holds the “honey that attracts the bees,” Johnson said.

The water park and hotel are estimated to cost $150 million, the golf venue and amphitheater $20 million apiece, a mountain roller coaster $10 million and additional retail and dining is projected to be a $50 million investment.

The Pinnacle currently has about 1 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment options, but he said additional dining would be needed to meet the demands of the large numbers forecast to visit the proposed new attractions.

Collectively, Johnson projects the casino would generate $38 million annually in gaming tax revenue for the state and $9.4 million for Washington County, but he proposes that the county strike an unspecified revenue-sharing agreement with Bristol, Virginia.

A state study forecasts that the Bristol casino would generate up to $130 million in annual net gaming revenue, $35 million in state gaming tax revenue and $3.7 million in local tax revenue. However, it was completed before Hard Rock International announced it planned to manage the hotel and casino.

Story courtesy of David McGee/Bristol Herald Courier:  Link

Chief Sneed shares commitment with Washington County VA Supervisors

ABINGDON, Va. — Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) shared how the benefits of a planned $500 million investment by his tribe and Pinnacle developer Steve Johnson in a casino, lodging and entertainment complex at The Pinnacle with Washington County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors this week. The presentation helped clarify the intentions of the tribe and dispel misinformation about the initiative.

“Gaming is how we’ve turned a five-county economically depressed region of western North Carolina into one that is thriving through employment and funding for much needed government and social programs,” said Sneed. “The funds that can be generated from our casino and entertainment complex at The Pinnacle can have the same positive impact for Washington County Virginia and the region.”

Chief Sneed was joined by Pinnacle developer Steve Johnson and Greg Habeeb, an attorney for the two parties. “We are not asking the board of supervisors for anything here tonight,” said Habeeb. “We are here to share what this $500 million economic development project can give to the county and the region.”

“Every other project in every corner of the state is a casino project. This is something is something totally different,” said Habeeb. “Ours is a major economic development project anchored by casino.”

“Funds from gaming and lodging at our two casinos in North Carolina have enabled us to build a hospital, a drug and alcohol treatment center and fund more than 400 scholarships for our tribe members,” said Chief Sneed. “We do this through a foundation whose membership includes state and local government officials and not for profit organizations in our region. We would encourage the same for Washington County. We would like to see an emphasis toward funding programs for mental health, opioids abuse, obesity and workforce development.”

The project includes a 50-acre casino and hotel, a 15,000-seat outdoor concert arena, a mountain coaster, golf entertainment venue, a luxury hotel with indoor waterpark and additional retail and dining facilities. The complex will create 3,300 jobs with a total annual economic impact of $305 million. Direct annual income to Washington County Virginia through property, sales and lodging taxes is estimated at $9.4 million annually. The Board of Supervisors would direct those dollars toward funding education, law enforcement and infrastructure improvements in the county and towns within.

Sharing an aerial map of the Cherokee Casino/Pinnacle Virginia Development, Habeeb provided data on the economic impact the project will bring. “The 350-acre site adjoins an existing 250-acre shopping complex that drew 5.2 million visitors last year. Those visitors spent $200 million in taxable income in Tennessee. Our location is along Interstate 81 and two Federal interchanges that recorded 8.2 million vehicles last year. Our project is pre-loaded with proven success,” Habeeb said. The Cherokee casino and hotel are projected to generate $200 million in gaming and lodging sales and $100 million in annual payroll to the 2,000 employees of the Cherokee operation. The new Pinnacle development in Virginia will generate an additional $105 million in sales and employ 1,300 at its new venues.

When asked by supervisor Saul Hernandez to address reports that the Cherokee were not serious about a Washington County Virginia casino, instead trying to block competition from another proposed casino nearby for the tribe’s North Carolina casinos, Habeeb said the statement was untrue. “Only three percent of visitors to the Cherokee casinos are from Virginia. The tribe views Virginia as a completely new market for its gaming and lodging operations.”

When asked by Hernandez about the need for additional law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services and equipment because of the new complex Chief Sneed said that funding from the development would support those needs. Steve Johnson said that existing water and sewer infrastructure to the 350-acre site already exists. Johnson also said that a new access road to The Pinnacle Virginia development would be built.

“We understand that the debate on making the right choice for communities like those in Washington County Virginia is just beginning here and in Richmond,” Habeeb concluded. “We welcome the debate and will respond to questions or concerns through the process. We wanted the Board of Supervisors to be the first to hear directly from Chief Sneed that his tribe is sincere in their vision for becoming a valued member of this community and being the anchor to a half-billion-dollar economic development project for the region.”

Here are additional economic details on the development and for more information, visit

Cherokee Indian/Pinnacle Development
Stated Investment of Casino/Pinnacle Dev.: $500 million
  Cherokee Casino and Hotel: $250 million
Pinnacle Hotel/Waterpark: $150 million
  Golf Venue: $20 million
  Mountain Coaster: $10 million
  Amphitheater: $20 million
  Retail & Dining: $50 million
  Total: $500 million 

Projected Casino Annual Revenue: $200 million
Projected Annual Revenue from The Pinnacle Virginia Operations: $105 million

Projected Annual Income to Washington County, VA
  Annual Real Property Tax
  Casino/Hotel: $1.4 million
  Hotel/Waterpark: $850,500
  Retail & Dining: $283,500
  Golf Venue: $113,400
  Mountain Coaster: $56,700
  Amphitheater: $113,400
  Total: $2.83 million

Annual Personal Property Taxes
  Casino/Hotel: $680,000
  Hotel/Waterpark: $127,500
  Retail & Dining: $42,500
  Golf Venue: $17,000
  Mountain Coaster: $8,500
  Amphitheater: $17,000
  Total: $892,500

Local Sales Taxes
  Casino/Hotel: $810,000
  Hotel/Waterpark: $850,500
  Retail & Dining: $400,000
  Golf Venue: $120,000
  Mountain Coaster: $20,000
  Amphitheater: $150,000
 Total: $1.82 million

Local Lodging Taxes
  Casino/Hotel: $1.25 million
  Hotel/Waterpark: $1.13 million
  Total: $2.38 million

Gaming Revenue Local: $1.5 million

Direct Annual Income to Washington County VA: $9.42 million

Additional Income and Economic Development Facts

State Gaming Revenue: $38 million

Payroll Economic Impact
  Casino/Hotel: $1.4 million annual
  Hotel/Waterpark: $850,500 annual
  Retail & Dining: $283,500 annual
  Golf Venue: $113,400 annual
  Mountain Coaster: $56,700 annual
  Amphitheater: $113,400 annual

Total Econ. Payroll 3X Multiplier: $250 million per year

Projected Year 1 Casino & Pinnacle Development Jobs: 3,300
  Casino/Hotel: 2,000
  Hotel/Waterpark: 800
  Retail/Dining: 200
  Golf Venue: 150
  Amphitheater: 100
  Mountain Coaster: 50

Projected Casino/Hotel Only Payroll: $ 100 million 

Total Acreage Involved: Cherokee Casino/Pinnacle Development:
  Pinnacle VA Development: 300 acres
  Pinnacle TN Development: 250 acres
  Cherokee Casino/Hotel: 50 acres
Total Acreage: 600 acres 

2019 Visitors to The Pinnacle Development: 5.2 million visitors

2019 Sales of Retailers at The Pinnacle, TN: $200 million

Annual Main Access Road Traffic (I-81/11W): 18.2 million vehicles

Projected Construction Jobs: 2,000

Cherokee/Pinnacle Development Reinvestment in The Community

The Cherokee/Pinnacle Development reinvestment will revolve around regional concerns including:

  • Mental Health
  • Opioids Abuse
  • Obesity
Three New Retailers Open Their Doors at The Pinnacle

BRISTOL, Tn. — The region’s largest retail complex is about to get larger as three new retailers will open their doors soon at The Pinnacle. The opening of a T-Mobile store as well as a Waffle House and New Best Buy brings the number of retailers at the Bristol, Tenn. location to 73.

“Our vision for an extraordinary retail complex continues to unfold with the addition of these three great brand name retailers,” explains developer Steve Johnson. “We set a new record for visitors to The Pinnacle in 2019, and we’re enthusiastic about the new year.”

The Pinnacle estimates 5,230,450 people visited the site in 2019.

The Pinnacle set a new holiday traffic record of 165,000 vehicles visiting stores, restaurants and other retailers during the holiday season. Overall, it is estimated that more than 5,230,450 people visited The Pinnacle during 2019, a 5.1 percent increase over the previous year.

With those visitors came the benefits of the sales tax dollars and employment to the region. While holiday sales are still being calculated by the State, it is estimated that $200,000,000 in total sales were generated at The Pinnacle in 2019. Sales tax dollars are shared by the State with the City of Bristol and Sullivan County to support schools, provide law enforcement and other key governmental functions.

“There are about 2,000 people who work at retailers at The Pinnacle,” Johnson explains. “They take their paychecks back home to support their families and their local economies—whether they live in Tennessee or Virginia.” According to Networks, a Sullivan County economic development organization, 2,000 workers at The Pinnacle would rank the retail complex as the fourth largest employer in the county behind Eastman, Ballad Health and Holston Medical Group. Among industries in Sullivan County, it would rank second, just behind Eastman and ahead of BAE Systems.

“The Pinnacle has been a blessing to the taxpayers of Sullivan County,” says Richard Venable, Sullivan County Mayor. “Without the sales tax dollars provided by the retailers at The Pinnacle, the tax burden on county residents would be much greater. The jobs the site creates offer support to families throughout the region. Their purchases support other local businesses and their contributions to churches and charities are likewise beneficial.”

Beth Rhinehart is President and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. She says The Pinnacle offers additional benefits to Bristol. “Those who visit The Pinnacle don’t just shop there and leave. Many also explore our downtown attractions such as the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as well as local shops and restaurants.”

Among the new stores at The Pinnacle, Best Buy is the nation’s largest electronics retailer. A T-Mobile store and an iconic Waffle House will generate additional traffic to the shopping, dining and entertainment mecca for the five-state region.

Plans to build entertainment venue, sports complex behind The Pinnacle move forward

Plans are in the works for a new entertainment venue in Washington County, Virginia. Developer Steve Johnson wants to build everything on his property right behind the Pinnacle.

The plans are in the very early stages. The Washington County Virginia Board of Supervisors is still waiting for a concept plan from Johnson. But County Administrator, Jason Berry, said the plan is to build an amphitheater, sports complex and a hotel on the 250 acres of land behind Bass Pro Shops.

While the Pinnacle is in Tennessee, the land for this development is on the Virginia side in Washington County. County leaders are excited about the potential for more tax dollars. But in order to make that development happen, they’ll need to build a road leading into it, which is projected to cost $13 million.

So they’re asking Senator Bill Carrico to propose legislation to approve an ‘Admission Tax’ to help pay for it. If the state grants that, the county would be able to charge an extra tax on admissions tickets to future events like sporting events or concerts at Johnson’s development.

Board of Supervisors chairman Randy Pennington said this would not affect any other event or development in the county. In the state of Virginia, a county needs approval of an ‘Admission Tax’ on a case by case basis.

“It’s not against the law, but it has to be passed by the General Assembly,” Pennington said. “The county has no taxing power for that.”

“It’d be something we don’t have for one,” Berry said. “And two, with the development in Tennessee all those dollars are going into the state of Tennessee. This would be a development that the county would benefit from on sales tax, property tax, so forth. It’d be a good thing for the county and add to the quality of life at the same time.”

The proposed road would create another access point from I-81 to the development, including the Pinnacle. The county is applying for VDOT funding to cover half of the $13 million cost.

As for the ‘Admission Tax’ resolution, it’s now on its way to Senator Carrico. The county hopes the issue will be taken up and approved in the next General Assembly, which will start in January.

Story courtesy of Tiana Bohner/WCYB:  Link

Indoor trampoline park bounces into Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. – An indoor trampoline park has opened in the Twin City for those who want to dive into a massive pit of foam cubes, somersault across the room or jump to a basketball rim like Michael Jordan.

The second Tri-Cities location of Just Jump Trampoline Park is at The Pinnacle off Interstate 81’s Exit 74 in Bristol, Tennessee. The trampoline park offers 25,000 square feet of spongy, cushioned fun, according to co-owner Beth Hutton.

“It’s amazing to finally be open,” Hutton said. “We’ve been open in Johnson City for two years and have been able to take everything we’ve learned and apply it here. People have been begging us to come and since opening on Friday, the Bristol community has been so very supportive,” she said.

Just Jump features nine unique attractions. The main area offers more than a dozen trampoline pads where guests can bounce, attempt flips and get major air at their own pace.

The facility also has a station with basketball hoops to dunk on – if you’ve waited your whole life to dunk – but just aren’t tall enough. Next, there are two oversized dodge ball courts where you the classic elementary school game can be played.

“The dodge ball courts are one of our most popular things,” Hutton said. “High school and middle school kids enjoy them and we are hoping to start some tournaments in about a month.”

Guests can also go head to head on the Gladiator Beam, where they must stay balanced on a narrow beam while trying to knock off opponents. The park also features a laser maze, rock-climbing wall, giant air bag, and an obstacle course that compares to TV show, “American Ninja Warrior.” The course pushes boundaries as participants swing, jump, and climb across it.

Hutton, a native of Bristol, Virginia, said the trampoline park was at maximum capacity of 160 jumpers for several hours on Saturday and business has been great.

“One of the best tips for those folks who have never been to a trampoline park before would be to come on a week night when it’s not so busy,” Hutton said. “Plan ahead and have fun as well.”

All guests are required to sign waivers before jumping and wear special footwear with “grip pad” soles, which help feet grab more tightly to trampoline mats. Hutton sells the footwear for $1.75 at the check-in desk.

“We take the safety of our guests very seriously,” Hutton said. “We have over 60 workers who are all trained on key safety measures.”

Just Jump also offers a variety of birthday party packages and several field trips have been booked by schools in the region, Hutton said.

But it’s not just kids who are enjoying Just Jump. Adults, like Bristol, Virginia resident Caitlyn Pennington, are bouncing into the business ready to have some fun.

“I went to the one in Johnson City with my youth group and fell in love with it,” Pennington said Monday. “As soon as I heard about it opening here, I begged my boyfriend to bring me.”

All photos courtesy of David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier

Story courtesy of Zach Irby/Bristol Herald Courier: Link

Bristol developer Johnson donates $1M for United Way endowment fund

BRISTOL, Va. — There was a loud eruption of cheers and applause at the United Way of Bristol Wednesday morning when Bristol developer Steve Johnson pulled a black sheet off an oversized check.

Johnson donated $1 million to the organization’s newly created endowment fund. He proposed the endowment fund when he was campaign chairman nearly a decade ago and said the long-term goal is to fully fund the administrative side of the nonprofit so 100 percent of annual fundraising benefits more than 30 partner agencies.

“The needs of this region are tremendous,” Johnson said. “The things we take for granted like food and shelter — some people don’t have that. We need to eradicate those problems and giving back to the community means a lot to me. I’m fortunate that I can do it and help the United Way.”

Lisa Cofer, United Way executive director, said 92 cents of every dollar raised goes back into the community — while the remaining 8 cents supports the agency’s operating costs.

“I’m so overwhelmed that I don’t even know what to say,” Cofer said. “This is something that our staff of 18 years has dreamed about and through Steve’s donation we are well on our way towards meeting our endowment goal and that is something we will continue to work towards.”

Wednesday’s donation is not the first big check Johnson has handed over this month. On Dec. 7, Virginia Tech announced that Johnson gifted $1 million toward construction costs of the VT indoor practice facility at his alma mater.

Building a successful business footprint is what allows him to give back, said Johnson. He is president and owner of Bristol-based Johnson Commercial Development and developer of The Pinnacle, a giant retail center in Bristol, Tennessee.

“If you run your business right, you’ll end up financially successful,” he said. “To be in that position and able to give back — it gives me great joy. I also know that this year’s Bristol fund drive is about 20 percent short of its goal. I want everyone to pitch in this Christmas season, too.”

United Way of Bristol has raised $967,217 toward its total fundraising goal of $1.15 million. Donations can be made online by visiting or by mail: P.O. Box 696, Bristol, TN 37621.

All photos courtesy of David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier

Story courtesy of Zach Irby/Bristol Herald Courier: Link

Bristol developer makes $1 million donation to Virginia Tech

Bristol developer Steve Johnson has made a gift of $1,000,025 toward the construction costs of the Virginia Tech Indoor Practice Facility at his alma mater.

The Virginia Tech Athletics Department made the announcement Wednesday. Johnson also made a second leadership gift commitment to launch Phase 2 of the Merryman Center renovations, most specifically, the total renovation of McConnell Auditorium and team meeting rooms.

“Through Steve’s continued generosity, we will be able to continue the modernization of our athletics facilities at Virginia Tech,” said Director of Athletics Whit Babcock. “Our entire athletics department has benefitted from the Indoor Practice Facility and will again benefit from the Phase 2 renovations of the Merryman Center and McConnell Auditorium, which was originally constructed in 1996. The upgrades to our football meeting spaces will help keep the Hokies competitive with other nationally renowned programs and assist in our recruiting efforts of the best-and-brightest. On behalf of Hokies everywhere, we express our heartfelt gratitude to Steve for his ongoing dedication to helping students at Virginia Tech.”

Johnson currently serves as president and owner of Bristol, Virginia-based Johnson Commercial Development, one of the largest commercial developers in the Southeast. Johnson Commercial Development recently completed one of the largest commercial projects in the country, The Pinnacle, a one million-square-foot upscale retail development in Bristol, Tennessee.

Photo courtesy of Earl Neikirk/Bristol Herald Courier: Former Virginia Tech football players Milton Franklin, left, and Steve Johnson, share stories with Mike Quillen and his wife before the Bristol Chamber Annual Awards Tailgate Kickoff on Friday. The theme was the Battle at Bristol Football game with Virginia Tech and University of Tennessee.

Story courtesy of Robert Sorrell/Bristol Herald Courier: Link

Update on Second Phase of the Pinnacle (Gallery)

Check out some aerial shots of the Second Phase of The Pinnacle.

Bristol Prepares to Eat More Chicken

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Bristol native Josh Horner has been working for Chick-fil-A since he was 16 years old, and he was thrilled Wednesday to open his own franchise at The Pinnacle.

And he was especially happy that the opening came during race week.

It’s been four months since the groundbreaking and it’s exciting to open our doors during race week,” he said. “Not every Chick-fil-A can say that they have the opportunity to have customers from 50 states and 12 countries in a week’s time, but we can.”

Bristol Tennessee Mayor Lea Powers said that Horner’s success should be a testament to every young person in Bristol.

“Josh made a really good step when he started his first job with Chick-fil-A when he was 16,” Powers said. “Look where that choice has led him.

Horton said filling out his first application at the Bristol Mall franchise was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“I grew up in Bristol and being able to come home and open up a restaurant here is pretty neat,” he said. “I started my Chick-fil-A career 19 years ago at the age of 16 so being able to come home and create 75 new jobs is very exciting for me.”

The Pinnacle is off of Interstate 81’s Exit 74.

Shoppers to get more Options

Tri-Cities shoppers will soon have even more options as the Pinnacle development in Bristol, Tennessee announced the addition of the Crescent and Tower Shops.

This next phase of retail and development will include retailers like Carter’s, Party City, GAP, Old Navy, Yankee Candle and much more.

Construction of this phase is expected to be complete by spring 2016.

It was also announced on Thursday that the region’s only CarMax will open in the summer of 2016.

When we spoke to developer Steve Johnson Thursday he says this is really just the beginning.

“I have a strong desire to build a amphitheater to host the biggest acts in the country, and we get music events in here, you know 15,000 strong on a monthly basis, that is the vision,” said Johnson.

Another venue coming to the Pinnacle will be a movie theater.

The Pinnacle 12 by Marquee Cinemas is expected to open sometime this fall.

It will be the region’s largest cinema at 54,000 square feet.

Officials also say construction should soon begin on restaurants like Steak and Shake and Panda Express.