LEAH, Ga. — At Little River Marina, unappreciated spring iris bloom from a neglected garden.
The docks are gone and cabins are empty – and a new operator is evaluating redevelopment options for the Thurmond Lake landmark.
“The place needs a complete facelift,” said Mike Jansen, owner of Athens-based Classic City Marinas, which will take control of the site June 1, when a new lease will be executed with the Army Corps of Engineers. “We think it has a lot of potential.”
The marina, which had been in operation under various owners since the 1950s, closed in December when the corps decided not to renew the most recent operator’s long-term lease.
Jansen, whose company already operates marinas and related facilities at lakes Sinclair and Hartwell, said a long-term plan under development for the site includes a new store, fuel faciltiies and eventually a restaurant.
“We’re not keeping anything that’s out there,” he said of the existing store, dining hall and other improvements added over the years. “The first thing we will do is get fuel docks and wet slips.”
Classic City Marinas already operates marinas and related facilities in other areas, Jansen said.
Sinclair Marina – in the final stages of a $5.5 million renovation – and Crooked Creek Marina are both at Georgia Power Co.’s Lake Sinclair.
Also undergoing renovation is Clemson Marina on the South Carolina side of Lake Hartwell.
The company also plans to open a restaurant, Bone Island Grill, at Lake Oconee later this spring; and recently closed a similar restaurant at Crooked Creek after three years.
The Little River property, located in Columbia County along a major highway, seemed like a good fit for a company hoping to invest in the recreation industry, he said.
Current efforts include due diligence to assess the site’s infrastructure and determine whether any pre-existing buried gas tanks or similar obstacles are present.
Although the company’s lease is expected to take effect June 1, Jansen said it will be much later before the site reopens.
“We have a lot of infrastructure replacement, and also need a new septic treatment for the project,” he said. “We don’t believe in doing things twice.”
The redesign, he added, will incorporate contingencies to accommodate the reservoir’s literal ups and downs that come with drought years.
“In our design, both at Clemson and other lakes, it’s done in such a way that we understand water goes up and down,” he said. “We will not be shut down or landlocked during the low periods.”
A new name for the site has not been determined. “We started out with 10 and narrowed it down to two,” Jansen said.
Although the idled marina is closed, the public can still use its boat ramp, corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said.