Business

A legacy at Lake Lanier

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By Christopher Lancette

Fond memories inspire Virgil Williams to re-shape Lake Lanier Islands Resort

For Gwinnett County business magnate Virgil Williams, the $200 million renovation of Lake Lanier Islands Resort is not just another real estate project. It's a bit more personal; it”s about a special bond between his family and the land.

"It started back when we were first introduced to Lake Lanier in the late 1950s or 1960," the Suwanee resident remembers.

More than 40 years after his first ride on the water, Williams is thinking big.

As managing member of LLI Management Company, the firm that bought the lease interest in the resort”s hotel and businesses in 2005, he recently unveiled his latest conceptual plans for the next addition to the 1,100-acre resort”s future development: Construction will begin this summer on six multi-unit cottages (approximately 2,000 square-feet each) near the present hotel.

Known as The Cottages at Emerald Pointe, the project will celebrate the wilderness of the natural Lake Lanier Islands landscape, yet provide the creature comforts of a modern resort. According to Williams, the exteriors will incorporate the most revered material used to create the cherished character of National Historic Park Lodges built at the turn of the 20th century. These were heavily crafted in stone and timber with large expanses of glass to view the water and changing scenes of the season. Roofs will be heavyweight manufactured shingles designed to resemble shakes. Colors of the cottages will blend with the tones of the forest. Designed as separate enclaves, they will nestle below the hotel proper along an access pathway to serve as a miniature lakeside retreat in historic park-like fashion.

The Cottages at Emerald Pointe represent the latest touch to Williams” dream of revitalizing the resort.

Visitors will enter the resort through a gateway bridge that might make Santiago Calatrava proud. They will be greeted by a 40-foot cascading waterfall, drive through a natural sanctuary, and rest at a luxury lodge or boutique hotel, group conference hotel or bed and breakfast.

From there, they will be able to fill their days using electric cars, Segways and bicycles to travel around the island – hitting the links, fishing, riding horses, and relaxing at the yacht club. Scenic paths, viewing stations and gardens will dot their journeys. They may even be able to take in a concert at a 4,000-seat amphitheater, and say "I do" at a new wedding chapel.

Working with many of his family members on various components of the effort, Williams envisions changes that will affect not just the resort but the community.

"This is a significant project," he says. "The resort currently has more than 700 employees. We”re talking about in the thousands. In terms of job creation, economic investment, sales tax revenue and all the other business that occurs as a result of the park in some fashion, we”re looking at a mammoth economic engine. It”s a lot bigger than people realize."

Making it clear he has not yet calculated specific economic impact figures, Williams suggests the scope of the project may ultimately be in the magnitude of the Kia plant – the Kia Motors Corporation”s automotive assembly facility that”s heading to West Point, Ga. (State officials announcing that news last year said the deal would bring a $1.2 billion investment to the state while creating 2,600 jobs.)

"This is a wonderful opportunity, and it almost came to me accidentally," he says. "When it was brought to me as an opportunity to look at, I realized instantly this would be a tremendous challenge and opportunity. There are 1,100 acres here of pristine land, with about 26 miles-plus of shore