Originally created 09/09/01

A shore thing



LINCOLNTON, Ga. - Toye Hill stands at the Elijah Clark State Park boat launch and gestures toward miles of undeveloped shoreline. Across the lake on the South Carolina side, structures poke from behind the trees as a testament to what the state has done to make use of its natural resources.

"In 50 years we haven't done a thing to develop this land on the Georgia side," said Mr. Hill, chairman of the Lincoln County Development Authority. "You see what they've done over there and ask, 'Why can't we have something over here?"'

Lincoln County officials gathered with state government leaders on the naked shore of Thurmond Lake on Tuesday to discuss plans for a $35 million golf resort and conference center.

Representatives from the state departments of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Natural Resources and Community Affairs listened as the project's operations and development teams outlined plans to build a medium-size convention center and 18-hole golf course on about 600 acres.

Last month, Gov. Roy Barnes and the OneGeorgia Authority, a state agency, authorized $500,000 for planning and design, which Lincoln County officials say is vital to the project's success.

"It's extremely important for us to get some state money involved," said Alana Burke, executive director of the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. "We don't have a whole lot of revenue."

Lincoln County has been in dire need of an economic stimulus since a fire at Crider Inc.'s chicken-processing plant - the county's largest employer - displaced more than 200 workers last year.

The fire was an exclamation point on a mass exodus of employers from Lincoln County over the past 10 years. The area has always relied heavily on the textile industry, and as technology improved that industry became less labor-intensive. Cheap labor also enticed many American textile manufacturers to move operations abroad.

The area lacks the interstate highways and rail lines that attract new industry. As a result, Lincoln County's unemployment rate hovers near 10 percent.

Ms. Burke said using the county's natural resources to cultivate tourism is the answer to most of its economic questions.

"This project will create 200 to 250 jobs almost immediately, and that's not counting the spinoff," Ms. Burke said. "Security offices, art houses, coffee shops - these kinds of businesses can spring up with people visiting the area."

The cost

With a price tag of $35 million to $37 million, the project will have to be a public-private venture, with state and local governments shouldering what is not covered by revenue bonds floated by the Lincoln County Development and Recreation authorities.

For starters, Lincoln County needs at least $5 million to pay for roads, water and sewer lines and other on-site infrastructure improvements.

Lincoln County officials are lobbying the state departments of Community Affairs and Transportation, the OneGeorgia Authority and other federal, state and local-government agencies for funds.

"It will be a whole mix of funding, and right now we're not sure what that mix will be," said Bill York, president of YMS Consulting in Marietta, Ga., which was hired by the county as an economic-development consultant.

Community Affairs could help with grants from its Community Development Block Grant Program, Employment Incentive Program and Regional Assistance Program, said Jim Higdon, the department commissioner.

The county would have to demonstrate that the project will create jobs for low- and middle-income workers and influence the entire region in order to qualify for all three grants, which max out at $500,000 each.

The county could also qualify for low-interest loans from the state Environmental Facilities Authority.

"As they get further down the road and put more definition on the project, we'll have a better idea of what grants they qualify for," Mr. Higdon said. "So far I'm very impressed. I hope the project can go forward. It's definitely needed in that part of the state."

The bulk of the project would be paid for with revenue bonds issued by the Lincoln County Development and Recreation authorities. Coordinators have yet to decide how best to market and sell those bonds, Mr. Hill said.

Lincoln County has no provision for on-site alcohol consumption. Project officials are relying on a law passed by the General Assembly last year that allows the state to issue liquor licenses to golf-resort developments in rural areas.

The project has been certified as a Regional Economic Assistance Project by the state, enabling the sale of liquor by the drink without local legislation and positioning the project for priority status with regard to state grants.

Also, an unspecified portion of the county's hotel/motel tax would help support the operation. The state Department of Industry Trade and Tourism, which works to create jobs and promote tourism, would help market the facility once it's operational.

The specs

The golf course, hotel and restaurant would be open to the public. Ms. Burke said the resort's amenities, including tennis, swimming and boating, would complement those of nearby Elijah Clark State Park.

"We'll work for each other in that sense," Ms. Burke said.

About 70 percent of the 600 acres needed for the project is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan is for the state to lease the land from the corps through the Department of Natural Resources.

The resort would be within 2 1/2 hours of five metropolitan areas: Augusta, Atlanta, Columbia, Greenville, S.C., and Spartanburg, S.C.

DeVictor Langham Co. of Roswell, Ga., has been tapped for land planning and golf-course architecture. The company also designed the Walker Course at Clemson University, Rarity Bay Golf Course in Tennessee and just-completed Windemere Golf Course in Atlanta, which it co-designed with Davis Love III.

"We got out to the site and were just amazed," said Andy Davison, the firm's senior architect. "It's going to be phenomenal. Even working with the Army Corps and environmental restraints, it's still going to be fantastic."

The 175-room, four-star hotel will be next to the 20,000-square-foot conference center, similar to the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta before its 25,000-square-foot conference center expansion.

A recent economic-impact analysis estimated that the resort would directly generate about $1 million annually in local sales taxes, in addition to the spinoff impact felt by the region.

Add that to the 200-to-250-person staff and projected $5.5 million payroll, and Lincoln County may have found the answer to its economic woes.

"We're very excited, and we know the people of Lincoln County share in that excitement," Ms. Burke said. "After meeting with the governor, the commissioner of tourism and Department of Community Affairs, we know we have the support from the state - and we know from our analysis this is a good project for us and for the state."

The specs

A breakdown of Lincoln County's proposed golf resort and convention center on the banks of Thurmond Lake next to Elijah Clark State Park. County authorities hope the project will spur economic growth in an area hurting from high unemployment.

Cost: $35 million-$37 million

Jobs: 200-250

Annual payroll: $5.5 million

Construction time: 18 to 24 months

Major amenities: 175-room hotel; 20,000-square-foot conference center; 18-hole golf course - all open to the public

Funding: $6 million from federal, state and local government; the rest from county recreation and development authorities-issued revenue bonds

Status: Planning and design stage. County officials are using a $500,000 OneGeorgia Authority grant to develop a land-use plan and architectural schematic design for the hotel, convention center and golf course.

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks@augusta.com.