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Marquee Magazine
Summer 2005

People and places

KING of the HILL
A quick trip up the mountain with John Turchin

By Scott Robertson

As John Turchin pulls his Hummer into the entrance to his new development near Banner Elk, North Carolina, Steve Shields is waiting for him, Shields, a former professional bodybuilder who still looks the part, is shirtless and breathless. “John,” he pants, leaning into the open driver’s side window, “I need more big rocks.”

Shields has been building, by hand, the miles-long stacked rock wall that serves at the architectural signature for Turchin’s planned Eagles Nest community.

I’ve been asking these guys for two weeks for some big rocks. You know, we’re doing the front entrance and all I’ve got are little rocks.”

Turchin smiles at the man with the Schwarzeneggerian physique and says he’ll get his boulders now. Shields is completely sold on his boss’s ability to deliver.

It’s easy to be sold on John Turchin. That’s because Turchin know how to sell like you and I know how to breathe. “If I can pull off what I’m trying to do here, I’ll have the most unique community in this country,” Turchin is telling us as he accelerates up the side of the mountain he recently bought in Western North Carolina. “Not just the High Country you know! The country.” He angles the Hummer up a steep grade into one of the lots about halfway up the mountain. “This is probably the lot with the worst view we have,” he says. The view, of course, is so beautiful as to make grown men weep. “Come on, I’ll take you to see some of the better ones. You want to see the big view?”

The big view is what Turchin is all about. He has a big picture in mind for his little corner of Western North Carolina, and he’s selling that vision right now. “My dream is to make the community the way I want it to be. Then, when people see it, if they share my vision, they’ll want to be part of it.” John Turchin is building a community in his own image.

Luckily, it’s an image that has its own innate appeal. “I want the community to reflect and take advantage of what this place really is,” he explains. “There are already so many golf courses around here. Who needs another golf course community? Look at these mountains. What I’m building is a great camp.”

A camp with lot prices ranging to $2.5 million.

In Turchin’s planned Eagle’s Nest community, the money many developers would have spent on a gold course will instead go toward the creation of areas for horseback riding, hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, fly fishing, skeet shooting and other activities more traditionally associated with the mountains. “What I’m doing, I’m doing with respect for the land,” he says. “My parents brought me to these mountains I was a boy, and I want to do the same for my kids and grandkids. I want to create a community that they’ll want to be a part of for the same reasons as me. I plan to live the rest of my life here.

 “The least amount of development is the best amount,” continues Turchin.

“One of the reasons that this development has been accepted by the locals is that even though I’m an outsider in [And he is. Turchin hosts parties in Miami with guest lists including User, Ludacris and Paris Hilton, among others,], I’ve kept my word to develop this land to national park standards. I take the time to clear land without stripping it.”

If Turchin’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard it attached to the Turchin Visual Arts Center at nearby Appalachian State University. Turchin’s parents, Robert and Lilian, are actually the Turchins for whom the center is named. “My mother is an artist and my father has always loved the mountains. His vision was to bring fine arts here,” says John.

Now John Turchin has opened a gallery in Banner Elk, though his motives, he admits, are not entirely altruistic. “I need art for the houses at Eagle’s Nest. As a gallery owner, I can negotiate with the artists. I can commission artists to fulfill our needs. I believe that if the gallery is fulfilling my needs, it’ll fulfill the area’s needs as well.”

That was the logic behind the creation of the Great Train Robbery, his retail development; the decision to bring in Crabby Bill’s, a seafood restaurant; and the planned creation of a few other new businesses in town as well. So, in the end, it won’t just be the Eagle’s Nest community Turchin plans to shape it will be the whole Banner Elk area. “We’re trying to take it to another level,” he says.

And yes, Turchin did say that he’s creating the houses at Eagle’s Nest. Some developers would sell the lots and let the buyers put in whatever grandiose homes their architects could come up with. Not Turchin. “This is not about egos,” he says, “I don’t want a bunch of guys up here playing king of the hill.” The subtext is clear. There’s only one King here, and right now he’s turned his smile toward us.

“You look around at some of these other places, and every guy has built a house that says, ‘I’ve got more money than the next guy,” you know? And they’re right up against each other. Well, anybody who wants to build their own house beyond a certain number of square feet is going to have to get my permission first. We only want people here who will appreciate this place. Plenty of people have money but don’t belong here.”

And, Turchin says, plenty of people who don’t have as much money do belong. So he plans to open part of the development to “cabins” as low as $400,000. “It’s about a lifestyle,” says Turchin, “and either you get that or you don’t.”

A few minutes later, after sharing the big view with us, Turchin stops and rolls down his window to speak with one of his managers, who breaks away from a conversation he’s having with a few other workers by the side of the road. “Listen,” says Turchin, “Steve is down at the main gate. He’s working on the bit of the wall that’s going to be his big statement there and he says he needs some really big rocks. Could you see that he gets some from that large pile up near the top of the mountain?”

The manager doesn’t even blink. “Should I get ‘em to him today or would first thing in the morning be OK?” “First thing tomorrow will be fine,” Turchin says, smiling at the manager. “Thanks.”

And as he rolls his window up and heads down his mountain, Turchin glances up in the mirror at the retreating manager. And John Turchin smiles again, this time to no one in particular.

It’s good to be the King.

Visit:   www.eaglesnestbe.com


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