Maryville developer Mike Ross selling Tennessee River Preserve

By Robert Norris
LENOIR CITY — A reminder of better times stands on the side of the road near Fort Loudoun Dam as a dusty Lincoln SUV rolls along U.S. 321 toward the site of new dream about to go up for sale.

Rarity Pointe, the sign reads. It marks the entrance road to a gated, high-end resort community complete with an Audubon Signature golf course designed by Bob Cupp.

It symbolizes the good life. A community developed for people who've done well financially. A place to retire in comfort in a land of scenic beauty.

The man steering the SUV is Mike Ross — the Maryville native and developer extraordinaire whose Rarity Communities symbolized the glory days of the real estate boom in East Tennessee.

Like the Lincoln, the sheen of the Rarity dream is a bit dusty these days. Bankruptcies, lawsuits, countersuits, accusations of racketeering, kickbacks, inflated valuations, unpaid taxes.

But Ross has not hit the road to talk about lawyers' work. He's here to deal with all his legal entanglements the best way he knows how: By selling prime pieces of Tennessee's green gold — its beautiful landscape.

On Oct. 16, Ross will offer at auction 102 acres of property off Poplar Springs Road in Loudon County. The site is divided into 16 tracts, each about 5 acres or a little more. He's calling it Tennessee River Preserve. (He says it's loaded with deer.) It's located 4.4 miles by road from Fort Loudoun Dam on the banks of the Tennessee River, part of the Watts Bar Reservoir. Around a bend and hidden by a steep island in the river is the city of Loudon. 

Most tracts reach the river. All stretch back to the road. Electricity is available. But water and septic is up to the buyers. This is a far cry from the groomed and pampered dreamlands of Rarity. Ross is flying closer to the earth with this development. He's reaching out for a broader, more down-home customer base.

A few years back, Ross bought 820 acres of property from Bowater, the timber company. He cleared off a lot of the pine and scrub, leaving a strip of forested land along the riverfront. The site was going to be developed, another Rarity Community complete with upscale homes, golf course and marina. Not anymore. No amenities here. The 102 acres is being put up for sale practically naked.

The reason is simple. “The market for that is not what it once was, so we need to sell some of the property to pay the bank,” Ross says. As for the legal entanglements? “We're just dealing with it. The economy — we're looking forward to the day when things are back similar to the way they used to be. We going to still be here continuing to do what we do.”

The Rarity Pointe sign still stands. The website still promotes the resort community. A video on the website concludes with these written words: “There is no surer way to succeed than to invest in your own happiness. Rarity Point. The opportunity of a lifetime.”
Can Tennessee River Preserve help preserve that investment for Mike Ross? The high bidders on Oct. 16 may help determine that.