“It’s a godsend for this community. We certainly have something for which we can be thankful this Thanksgiving.”
Burnside Mayor Ron Jones was reacting to an announcement yesterday from the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet that a Request for Proposals (RFP) has been issued seeking a developer-operator for a lodging facility at General Burnside Island State Park.
“We believe conditions are right for a developer to build a lodge that would be a great addition for tourists who visit the Lake Cumberland area,” Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker said.
She may have a point. At least two former respondents to earlier RFPs to build a lodge at Burnside Island State Park indicated they will consider the new RFP.
Dudley Webb, chair of the board and founder of The Webb Companies, Lexington, and Mike Czerwonka, president of Czerwonka & Associates, Louisville, both say are still interested in General Burnside Island State Park. The Webb Companies’ currently most visible project is CentrePointe in Lexington and his company has developed several marines on Lake Cumberland and one on Dale Hollow Lake. Czerwonka has tie-ins with numerous hotel chains in the South.
“I’ve been keeping track of the project through your newspaper,” Webb told the Commonwealth Journal. “I am a supporter of that project and a firm believer in that area ... and Lake Cumberland. “Thank you for letting me know about it (RFP),” he told a reporter for the Somerset newspaper.
“That (lodge) is a great opportunity for that area ... I think it ought to be done whether we do it or not,” Webb said, repeating a position he has maintained since 2006 when he and his (late) brother, Donald, submitted proposals to build and operate a lodge on Burnside Island. “I’ll certainly look at it (RFP),” Webb said.
Czerwonka hadn’t seen the RFP when he talked with the Commonwealth Journal yesterday afternoon. However, he said he is still interested if the state has modified its positions on the project.
“The state park system is losing $45 million a year,” noted Czerwonka, whose company submitted two proposals to improve and operate Burnside state park about seven years ago in response to RFPs from the Tourism Cabinet.
“Our investors wanted to lease the entire park, make $150 million worth of improvement, and put in a four or five star experience,” recalled Czerwonka. He said the state at the time would only give a 25-year lease and “ ... we’d have to walk away ... our investors couldn’t make any money like that,” he said.
Gil Lawson, executive director, Office of Communications for the Tourism Cabinet, said there are provisions in the current RFP for a 50-year lease with three 10-year extensions. Lawson emphasized private operators at the park would be concessionaires and the facility would remain a public park owned by the state.
Lawson was reacting to a claim by heirs of the late Bob Cox, owner of most of the land before it became a state park, that if the land ceases to be a public park, ownership of the land would revert to heirs of the original owner.
The state park currently has an 18-hole golf course designed by Brian Ault; management of that course could be a part of the project but is not a requirement of the successful bidder. The park also has a campground and boat ramp. The property would remain part of the Kentucky State Park system, Lawson said.
The RFP is trying to locate a developer/operator who would outline and implement a master plan for the development and operation, at a minimum, of a “Three Diamond” rated hotel or lodge resort that could include a restaurant, swimming pool, spa, conference center, golf course or any other tourism-destination related facility. The master plan should include lodging space adequate to accommodate a range of guests plus the necessary commercial amenities that support the master plan.
The project could be eligible for state tourism incentives through the state Tourism Development Finance Authority. The incentive is a tax rebate of up to 50 percent of the investment amount over a 10-year period.
Attached to the RFP for informational purposes is a park development plan prepared by Bennie Garland, president of Garland and Associates, Jamestown, and MSE, a Lexington engineering firm, working under contract with South Kentucky RECC. The plan suggests a lodge with up to 100 guest rooms. The complex would include a 300-seat dining room and a conference center with meeting rooms that can support up to 200 conferees. There would be a 500-car parking lot.
An outdoor pool facility along with basketball courts and other game areas would be created at the lodge, to be built on northern end of the island. A recreational facility with an indoor swimming pool is proposed on the east side of the island, and a location has been identified for an outdoor amphitheater. The concept plan says it appears feasible to develop 32 rental cottages on the eastern side of the island. Garland visualizes private development around the island that would spur economic growth in Pulaski, McCreary and Wayne counties.
Any interested developer must be willing and capable of financing the project, along with designing, constructing, furnishing, operating and maintaining the project, the current RFP says. The state reserves the right to utilize any portion of General Burnside Island State Park that is not committed for development in the submitted master plan.
The proposals will be reviewed by an evaluation team selected by the Finance and Administration Cabinet. All responsive and responsible proposals will be evaluated, the RFP said. Deadline for submitting proposals is 3 p.m. February 3.
A delegation from the state will conduct a tour of the General Burnside Island State Park at 10:30 a.m. January 8 for all interested respondents. Purpose of the tour will be to allow potential respondents to assess potential building sites and vicinity.
Issuance of RFPs has generated excitement and optimism locally and across the state.
“It will make such a difference for this entire region of Kentucky,” continued Mayor Jones of Burnside. Jones envisions business and entertainment developments around the state park that could create a Little Gatlinburg.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our children and grandchildren; for people starting a family now to have places of employment,” said Jones.
“We're optimistic that a developer could make this a major attraction in the Lake Cumberland region,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “This is the type of public-private partnership we need as we work with Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) to bring about more economic development in Eastern Kentucky.”
"Burnside Island has been a historic recreational spot on Lake Cumberland that many families have enjoyed for generations and this project will see that some much needed upgrades will be made to this beautiful location," said Congressman Hal Rogers. "The project will create more tourism opportunities, along with infrastructure enhancements to support the growing needs at the park."
“I have always envisioned General Burnside Island being developed into a world-class resort destination,” said Sen. Chris Girdler of Somerset.
“There's no other place in America where you can find a 430-acre island on a 1,000-mile shoreline that has two wild rivers; one national and two state parks; a Civil War battlefield; eight world-class marinas and nine golf courses. With both natural beauty and historical significance, this area currently attracts over 4 million visitors a year and now has the opportunity for additional tourism potential,” Girdler concluded.