NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A former mining town in East Tennessee changed its name to Rocky Top on Thursday on a gamble that the popularity of the bluegrass standard will bring prosperity.
Tim Sharp, mayor of the town of 1,800 people formerly known as Lake City, confirmed the vote, which came after a failed last-minute bid by publishers of the song to stop the change in federal court.
The song that declares, "Rocky Top, you'll always be home, sweet home, to me. Good ol' Rocky Top. Rocky Top, Tennessee," has been recorded by dozens of performers over the years, including Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, the Osborne Brothers and Lynn Anderson. It is one of the state songs of Tennessee and is played repeatedly at University of Tennessee football games.
A group of developers thinks the name has the cachet to attract tourists. In exchange for Lake City changing its name to Rocky Top, they have promised to build a Disney-style interactive, 3-D animated theater, a live music venue, an indoor-outdoor waterpark and a 500-seat paddleboat restaurant on an as yet-to-be-constructed artificial lake.
That may seem pie-in-the-sky, but the mere promise of money and jobs has been enough to convince many residents to support the name change.
After the city council approved the change during a specially called meeting, the audience of about 400 people stood and applauded, Sharp said.
"We now have a spot on the map. ... Just like Santa Claus, Indiana. Is Santa Claus there? No. But they stop to see what's there," he said.
Several pastors in town have been praying for the success of the name change and commercial venture, with one telling Sharp, "'This is divine intervention, and I think God's going to be behind it,"' Sharp said.
There were no public comments at the meeting, but at an informational meeting last year, the attitude was, "Yes, this may be a dream, but we have to latch on to something. Currently there's nothing," Anderson County Director of Tourism Stephanie Wells has said.
Many of the commercial buildings in the tiny downtown are vacant, but one thing the town does have is two exits off Interstate 75. Developers say that easy access makes it perfect for their planned tourist complex.
House of Bryant Publications sued in federal court in March to stop the development, saying it will injure the reputation, goodwill and business value of the company's Rocky Top trademarks. The case is still working its way through the courts, but the town got a victory when a federal judge allowed it to go forward with the name change.
This is the second time the town has changed its name in the hope of changing its fortunes. Before Rocky Top was Lake City, it was Coal Creek. It became Lake City in the 1930s to capitalize on its proximity to Lake Norris.