Thunder's Out Part II

By Josh Flory

When it comes to Tennessee National, Thunder is going his own way.

The upscale waterfront golf community in Loudon was born as a joint effort between Thunder Enterprises — Chattanooga developer and University of Tennessee booster John “Thunder” Thornton’s outfit — and Medallist Developments, but it has seen an ownership shuffle in recent months. Last July, Thunder Bend LLC gave up its 30 percent equity stake in Tennessee National as part of a deal in which Thornton’s firm got several lots and some undeveloped property in the project.

More interesting is Thunder’s strategic approach to moving the lots — i.e., sell ’em cheap. In a new campaign called TN 4 Half, the firm says the home sites are now offered at half-price, although a news release specifies that they’re being sold for “less than half the price of previously sold comparable lots.”

In an interview, developer Thornton said he had maintained that more lots would be sold if they were priced aggressively, but “I didn’t have 100 percent of the votes.”

“Now, with these lots I do have 100 percent of the votes; there’s no bank debt on any of them and I can sell them for what I want,” he added.

Whether the high-profile price-chopping is conducive to the broader strategy by Medallist — a joint venture between Macquarie Bank of Australia and golfer Greg Norman’s Great White Shark Enterprises — isn’t exactly clear, although the Scope would speculate that it’s not likely, mate. In an e-mail message, Medallist USA Chief Operating Officer David Cecchele declined to comment on Thunder’s moves.

This isn’t the first time that links-loving potential buyers have been enticed by incentives at the project. At an open house in December, prices on some cottage homes were cut by more than $85,000, while a July promotion offered buyers a free golf cart with certain purchases.

On the other hand, the developers behind Tennessee National are still hitting from a better lie than some of their residential real estate counterparts. In December, for example, unsold lots and developer rights to Lowe’s Ferry — a residential project near Louisville, Tenn. — were deeded back to Fifth Third Bank after the developer’s cash flow dried up.

For his part, Thornton said the Realtor who is marketing his lots — Frank Goswitz, of Re/Max Preferred Properties — told him that several people who saw a billboard ad have called on their way to Florida.

While it’s a tough economic climate, Thornton said there’s still business out there. “I don’t think you can sell Floridians Florida land right now, but you can sell Floridians East Tennessee land,” he said. “I mean, there’s great value here … You’ve got to hammer these points, (that) this is a very low-cost place to live, and you don’t have massive swings and devaluations like Destin and Las Vegas and other areas that had huge spike-ups.”