Three years later, the Chattanooga homebuilder is constructing a $1.6 million home on one of his five lakefront lots in Rarity Club and finishing another luxury home for another property owner. But he and the 58 others who bought lots in the 578-acre Rarity complex still are waiting on the promised golf course, wellness center, boat marina and hiking trails.
Development of the Marion County complex -- designed to be the biggest residential development ever in Southeast Tennessee -- stopped in March when developer Mike Ross apparently ran out of money after selling more than $28 million in properties and golf memberships.
"It looks like Marion County has its own Bernie Madoff," Chattanooga developer John "Thunder" Thornton Jr. said Tuesday, referring to the New York financier who took billions of dollars from investors.
Thornton spent three years buying and trading properties and convincing the Tennessee Valley Authority to sell its Shellmound Recreation Area and surrounding land for a residential development.
Ross bought the land three years ago from Thornton, who still has a secondary mortgage on the property that was to be paid, in part, from future property sales.
"It's a real disappointment for all of us who trusted and believed in Mike Ross," Thornton said. "He hasn't completed -- or really even made a good start -- on any of the amenities he promised, and he's created a lot of losers out of this project."
Ross declined repeated requests for an interview. But in an e-mail response to the Times Free Press and in a separate letter to those who bought lots in some of his projects, Ross blamed the recession for his financial woes. He said he is still selling some lots among his nine Rarity Communities across East Tennessee, although far fewer than in the past.
"Recent economic developments have brought declining home values, rising unemployment, losses in personal wealth and economic uncertainty," the Maryville-based developer said. "These factors have caused many prospective Rarity Communities customers to delay or change retirement purchase plans."
Over the past 15 years, Ross emerged as the biggest recruiter of retirees relocating to Tennessee. He had plans for nine luxury golf course developments on lakes and mountains from Jasper to Jellico.
Although only two of the nine properties have had foreclosure actions filed on them, the recession has left many dreams in the rough.