Location Advantages

Strategic Development in the Chattanooga Region: McLemore Resort

McLemore Resort officially opened its doors to guests in February 2024, offering a luxurious retreat “above the clouds” on Lookout Mountain in Rising Fawn, Georgia. The development offers a range of amenities including full-service restaurants, a spa, extensive event space, and breathtaking views from its mountaintop location. Mike Burton, Managing Director of the resort, shares his excitement about the impact the resort will have on the Chattanooga region during an interview with the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership (GCEP).

GCEP: Tell us a little about who you are, what you do, and the history of Cloudland Resort.

Mike Burton: My name is Mike Burton. I am the Managing Director of McLemore Resort. I have been watching the progress of the McLemore Resort since late 2018 when Valor Hospitality, Cloudland’s hospitality management company, announced it as an upcoming project. I knew the area from my visits here as a child and young man. It has always been a dream to manage a resort like this. When the opportunity presented itself, I did not hesitate to throw my name into a long list of candidates. I have previously served in managing director roles at The Westin Jackson in Mississippi and The Westin Chicago Northwest.

The McLemore Resort emerged from a hotel concept created by Duane Horton, President of Scenic Land Company and McLemore, in 2008. In 2017, Scenic Land Company acquired what was then Canyon Ridge Resort and hired the golf course architects Rees Jones and Bill Bergin to renovate the existing 18-hole golf course, which opened in 2019. At the same time, local architectural firm TinkerMa was brought in to design the new McLemore Clubhouse, which opened in 2020. That same year, the new 18th hole was named “Best Finishing Hole Since the Year 2000” by Golf Digest. The following year, in late September of 2021, the Cloudland Lodge broke ground. Our second 18-hole golf course, The Keep, opens to limited play later this year. As you can probably imagine, we have been busy.

We are excited about Cloudland’s future. With 245 rooms and 20,000 square feet of conference space, the lodge can accommodate almost any reasonably-sized group while maintaining the atmosphere of a beautiful mountaintop retreat. Our relationship with Hilton’s Curio Collection is also worth noting. It has been a true collaboration.

GCEP: How has the opening of Cloudland at McLemore Resort impacted the local community in Rising Fawn and the surrounding areas?

Mike Burton: From an employment standpoint, our initial feasibility reports suggested the presence of Cloudland would create an additional 200-plus indirect jobs in the area. These are jobs outside of the resort. It could be a restaurant, gas station, or pharmacy that opens. From a quality-of-life standpoint, we believe Cloudland has significantly and positively impacted the area’s quality of life. The resort is helping make the southern end of Lookout Mountain a real destination. And it’s more than golf. Cloudland offers excellent dining experiences, beautiful views, a relaxing spa, and a place to get away. McLemore and Cloudland place Northwest Georgia on the map as a destination for best-in-class accommodations, golf, and living. This will attract regional and global guests who previously would not have visited.

GCEP: What economic benefits do you anticipate the resort will bring to the region, particularly in terms of local business growth and tourism?

Mike Burton: As mentioned previously, from an employment standpoint, our initial feasibility reports suggested the presence of Cloudland would create an additional 200-plus indirect jobs in the area.

We anticipate tens of thousands of guests staying overnight at Cloudland for generations to come. Our guests will inevitably explore the beautiful areas around the resort, from McLemore Cove, Walker and Dade Counties to Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

We anticipate our guests will venture into the community and spend their money at area shops and attractions. Lookout Mountain provides tourists with numerous attractions: the Incline Railway, Rock City Ruby Falls, Cloudland Canyon State Park, the Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga Battlefields, the Tennessee Aquarium, the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Hunter Art Museum, Lookout Lavender Farm, and Lula Lake Land Trust. The list goes on and on.

Partnering with area businesses is an integral part of what we do to help elevate the area. We plan to support sustainable growth in the community through the infusion of tax dollars coming into the county through the hotel. As such, we recognize many opportunities for community engagement, support of local events, and jobs we can provide to strengthen our relationship with our neighbors further.

GCEP: Has Cloudland at McLemore implemented any sustainable practices, and if so, how do these practices support the local environment and economy?

Mike Burton: The McLemore Resort owns its on-site water treatment center. This enables us to manage our own water supply for irrigation of our current and future golf courses.

We chose to make the Cloudland Lodge dark sky compliant to accentuate the natural beauty of the night sky and diminish light pollution as much as possible.

GCEP: Can you provide details on the employment opportunities created by the resort and how these jobs are contributing to the local economy?

Mike Burton: Within twelve months, the McLemore Resort will employ over 300 people, most of whom will be full-time employees. Our initial feasibility reports suggested the presence of Cloudland would create an additional 200-plus indirect jobs in the area.

Approximately 80 percent of our workforce resides in Dade County, Walker County, and Hamilton County. Many of our employees reside in Walker and Dade Counties. The remaining team members live nearby in Alabama and Tennessee. With a resort of this caliber, we offer various positions: chefs and servers in our many dining options, guest services and housekeeping, aestheticians and massage therapists in our spa, engineering, sales, and marketing. Whether you are just starting your career or many years into it, the resort provides excellent opportunities, many of which were unavailable previously in the area.

GCEP: What unique experiences does Cloudland at McLemore offer that differentiate it from other resorts in the Southeast?

Mike Burton: We are the only mountaintop destination offering two world-class golf courses designed by Bill Bergin and Rees Jones, along with a new hotel, Cloudland, which is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. We are only two hours away from Atlanta, Birmingham, and Nashville. Guests can enjoy our cliffside infinity-edge pool, numerous food outlets, event space, mountainside yoga, outdoor activities, fitness center, and relaxing spa.

McLemore’s Songwriter’s Series has been hugely successful. Each year, between May and October, Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning songwriters perform each month in an intimate outdoor setting. We also offer artist talks with photographer Kim Hubbard, who gives audiences an overview and insights about her photographs that hang throughout the hotel.

McLemore offers numerous training and educational opportunities for aspiring and seasoned golfers, one-on-one or by using our Callaway Toptracer technology on the driving range.

GCEP: What recreational activities and amenities are available to guests, and how do they enhance the overall guest experience?

Mike Burton: Golf is the anchor activity of McLemore and Cloudland. We currently have our award-winning 18-hole Highlands course, a six-hole par three course, a nine-hole putting course, and a driving range enabled with Toptracer golf technology. The Keep, our second 18-hole golf course, will open to limited play this year.

For resort guests looking for pure relaxation, our world-class spa, Selah, offers massages, facials, body treatments, and saunas and showers. Our infinity-edge pool is the perfect spot for soaking up the sun, while servers from our cliff-edge restaurant and bar, Skyside, offer frozen cocktails. At night, we have two fireplaces and a library to wind down the day.

If guests want a more active stay, our 24-hour fitness center is one of the best at any resort and includes a Peloton room and water rowers. Wake up Saturday morning, join a group yoga class, then tour the resort on an e-bike, free for our guests. Hiking on-site trails is another way to explore the property. We have about five miles of trails that lead to overlooks and allow guests to explore the beautiful topographical features of our resort.

Many nearby activities include hang gliding, rock climbing, caving, horseback riding, running, mountain biking, road cycling, hiking, or just relaxing alongside a cliff edge.

GCEP: What is the aesthetic and thought process behind the interior decoration and design of Cloudland Resort?

Mike Burton: The Cloudland design team wanted guests to feel inside and outside at once. The design of Cloudland mirrors the diversity and quality of the mountaintop setting. The team weaved the building’s enhanced woodland framework and integrated it into the environment. The plan was informed by the idea that people are naturally drawn to the edge and seek to connect to the dramatic landscape. The entry was designed to initially restrict the view with our large castle-like doors and build anticipation. As guests walk inside, they are introduced to the drama of being on a mountaintop ledge with panoramic views.

We use native woods and locally sourced stone throughout to provide a smooth transition between the exterior and interior. Our color palette also integrates with the environment. Its rugged mountain architectural character also brings comfort, whether playing classic board games in the great room or lounging with a book in the library. Each area is meticulously designed to foster a connection with the surrounding landscape.

One of the unique aesthetic aspects of Cloudland is its art collection. We worked with a local photographer, Kim Hubbard, to create portraits of the botanicals, trees, waterfalls, landscapes, and wildlife in McLemore Cove. Hubbard was previously a senior photo editor for National Geographic and the White House. The collaboration between her and our design team resulted in a collection of photographs throughout the hotel, from each guestroom to the restaurants, that give guests an awareness of the beautiful small things often overlooked in such a grand setting.

Another outstanding aspect of Cloudland is the library, which is set off from the main lobby. Our team curated a collection of over seven hundred books, hand-picked for their quality and connection to the area’s history, culture, and perspectives. It includes facsimiles of first editions of American authors such as Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, as well as books on golf, nature, art, history, and faith.

GCEP: Can you describe any recreational events that Cloudland at McLemore is equipped to host and how these events benefit our region?

Mike Burton: Open events are an important element of the McLemore experience. We are in our fourth year of the annual Songwriter’s Series, which features Grammy nominees and winners. Holiday events, like our upcoming Carnival Americana on July 6th, are also open to the public. Everyone can enjoy our five restaurants and the spa at Cloudland.

Our Friends of McLemore invitation is an open invite to non-members or resort guests to book and play a round of golf on the highly acclaimed McLemore Highlands course up to four times per year and once per season. This invitation is the only one of its kind in golf where a semi-private course welcomes the public for seasonal golf access in addition to special events and benefits granted to just our “Friends.” Registrations are easy and can be found on TheMcLemore.com.

We intend for McLemore and Cloudland to be used as an access point for active lifestyle destinations on and around Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain. The area is well known for hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, running, caving, rock climbing, and hang gliding. We are getting behind the Walker Rocks program in Walker County and engaged with several active lifestyle and environmental initiatives in the surrounding counties.

GCEP: What are the long-term goals for the resort, and how do you envision these goals contributing to the economic development of the region?

Mike Burton: We are 4-5 years into a 20-year development plan. This plan includes adding additional housing and amenities and expanding the resort from its current size. With these additions, McLemore Resort and Lookout Mountain will become a more well-known destination that serves others and provides exceptional experiences and fellowship for generations.

Learn more about McLemore Resort at www.themclemore.com