The LeConte Center is a premier multipurpose convention and event space located in the heart of Pigeon Forge. While serving as a catalyst for development and economic vitality in the city, it also enhances the natural beauty of the community. Since opening in October 2013, the LeConte Event Center has surpassed expectations and maintained an almost at-capacity calendar of bookings. This success, paired with the success of The Island, a nearby retail and entertainment center that also depends on the City’s municipal parking lot for its patrons, created an acute need for additional public parking. With one of its biggest events about a year away, the City hired Gresham Smith to design a new 2,000-space parking lot with easily accessible pathways to the existing event center. Overcoming the extreme topography that comes with being at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains prompted a myriad of options to evaluate, including grade-separated pedestrian facilities, escalators, elevators and stairs, and whether to provide access directly into the building or create infrastructure that could serve the community in a more comprehensive manner.
acres of pavers
foot pedestrian bridge
A National DeadlineHired by the City in June 2018, Gresham Smith was tasked with engineering a plan to deliver a new 2,000-space parking lot by September 2019 for the Center’s largest event, the National Quartet Convention. Due to this major time constraint, the project solution was broken into three phases for bidding and construction: mass grading of a parking lot, creation of parking area and construction of a pedestrian bridge. This allowed the project team to complete conceptual design and get the mass grading underway while finalizing the parking lot and pedestrian bridge design.
A+ GradingMass grading of the parking lot site began in in January 2019, and appropriate erosion protection and sediment control measures were set in place. The proposed parking lot was located on a previously graded site for an adjacent 40-acre baseball complex. The grading of that project left approximately 300,000 cubic yards of in-situ rock to be removed from the middle of the parking lot site to achieve the planned grade.
Altering Design & Eliminating CostWhen the first bid exceeded the initial estimate by an amount that Pigeon Forge City Council would not approve, Gresham Smith worked with the City to alter the design and implement cost-saving measures. The focus for the redesign was the replacement of the engineered stormwater quality, detention and conveyance features.
Our team successfully implemented a pervious paver design that met the requirements for water quality and detention by confirming the necessary infiltration for “first flush” requirements and utilizing a system of impervious berms to create storage in the stone base below the pavers. In addition to the elimination of pipes, vaults and water-quality units, a cost savings was recognized by eliminating the asphalt section for 14 acres of the site.
Navigating the Natural Splendor
The wayfinding plan for the project utilized the existing LeConte Center logo to brand the two separate lots as the River Lot, which is next to the Pigeon River, and the Mountain Lot, which was constructed out of pavers. With the use of the paver material, the project team was able to continue the branding into the paver design. The intent was not only to create something unique, but also to help define the lot for the high percentage of out-of-town visitors.
A Seamless Connection
The land purchased by the City for the parking lot is across Teaster Lane and about 50 feet higher than the LeConte Center building elevation. To provide access and a seamless connection, the third and final phase of the project included a pedestrian bridge that crosses the road and delivers guests directly from the parking lot to the LeConte Center. Utility and underground detention impacts, roadway clearance, ADA compliance, building emergency egress, employee parking, and aesthetics all had to be taken into consideration when designing the bridge. This facility had many obstacles to maneuver, including utility and underground detention impacts, roadway clearance, ADA compliance, building emergency egress, employee parking and aesthetics that matched the existing building.
Not Your Typical Parking LotThe permeable paver parking lot is now the second largest paver project in the U.S. and the largest east of the Mississippi River. The new parking lot and pedestrian bridge not only elevated the patron experience for visitors of the LeConte Center but also created a noteworthy landmark for both the Center and the local community.
The end result is a parking facility and pedestrian bridge that complements the aesthetics of the built environment while providing an open bicycle and pedestrian connection from the Riverwalk Greenway across Teaster Lane to the Jake Thomas Road corridor.