December 2, 2014 Share

Burnside Island could get privately operated lodge

SOMERSET — State tourism officials are seeking proposals for a developer to build the first privately operated lodge at a Kentucky state park.

The state issued a request Wednesday for developers to submit proposals on building a lodge at General Burnside Island State Park, which is surrounded by Lake Cumberland in southern Pulaski County.

Having a lodge on the island has long been a dream of local officials.

Tourism is a significant part of the economy in the area, which includes not only the lake, but also nearby attractions such as Cumberland Falls, the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

The lodge would be an attraction that would bring in more visitors, Burnside Mayor Ron Jones predicted.

"It would mean so much to this whole area," Jones said. The state park is inside the city limits.

Under the state's request, a company would build a lodge at its cost and operate it, and could also include a restaurant, convention facility and swimming pool, according to a news release.

The state would get rent payments or a percentage of the revenue from the project.

A feasibility study released with the request envisioned a lodge with at least 60 rooms, and perhaps as many as 100; a 300-seat restaurant; a convention center; and an indoor recreation center and pool.

Companies could also propose to manage the island's 18-hole golf course and popular campground as part of the deal.

The study said parking for the lodge would wipe out about 45 of the 110 sites at the campground.

The request for proposals did not estimate the cost of building the lodge. The state has an incentive program under which a developer could get a tax rebate equal to half its investment.

The request said the state would be "comfortable" with an initial 50-year lease on the lodge property, with the chance of three 10-year renewals.

The state would own the lodge when the lease was finally over, according to the request.

The state Finance and Administration Cabinet released the request for proposals for the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

Developers have until Feb. 3 to submit proposals.

Previous efforts to get a lodge built on the island have fallen short.

Most recently, the state sought interest from developers during the administration of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, but there were some notable stumbling blocks, according to the feasibility study.

One was that the sewer system on the island was not adequate to handle a new lodge. Another was that alcohol sales would not have been allowed.

The island has since been hooked into the wastewater system in Burnside, and the city of 800 is now fully wet, allowing alcohol sales at restaurants and package stores.

There have also been improvements in highway access.

"We believe the conditions are right for a developer to build a lodge that would be a great addition for tourists who visit the Lake Cumberland area," state parks Commissioner Elaine Walker said in a news release.

While some drawbacks have been solved, the feasibility study said the waterlines on the 430-acre island are not big enough to provide adequate fire protection if a developer decides the build a lodge.

However, the city of Burnside has committed to improving the system to solve that problem, the study said.

Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers and state Sen. Chris Girdler, both Republicans from Somerset, endorsed the effort to attract private development of a lodge on the island, according to the tourism cabinet's news release.

"We're optimistic that a developer could make this a major attraction in the Lake Cumberland region," Beshear said.

The Commonwealth-Journal, Pulaski County's newspaper, has reported that heirs of a man who sold land for the park have raised concerns that a lodge development would run afoul of a restriction requiring the property be used only for a public park.

However, state officials have looked at the issue and don't think it would bar development of a privately operated lodge because the island's status as a public park will not change, said Gil Lawson, spokesman for the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

There are now 17 state parks with lodges, according to the feasibility study.

All of those are operated by the state, Lawson said.

By Bill Estep

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