Members of the Greater Hall Chamber South Hall Business Coalition not only got a sneak peek at some holiday lights Wednesday morning but they also learned a lot more about Lake Lanier Islands and how it functions year-round.
Grier Todd, Vice President of Hospitality for Lake Lanier Islands spoke at the coalition meeting Tuesday morning over breakfast at the Legacy Lodge. He shared some details about what their plans were for the future and also how the resort impacted the local economy.
Todd said during the recession in 2009, they tried to think of ways they could run a "recession-proof" business. That's when they got the idea of hosting weddings. Eight years later, they now will host about 250 weddings this year in their 13 venues.
"When you get a wedding you normally get whole families coming together so it's an opportunity for families to come in, spend three or four nights together. Obviously, when they do that they come in and they're spending money in the local area, buying gas, buying food and last minute things they forgot.... It's really kind of a win-win for everybody," said Todd. He also said they contract with local vendors. "Flowers, we provide all our food, DJ's decorations, entertainment, all that and lighting, goes in to it."
During the summer months, 650 employees are signed on to keep the place running smoothly.
"Most of them are high school and college kids, looking for summer employment. Add that to the year-round staff, we get up to about 1,100 employees," Todd said. "For most of these kids it's their first job and we take great pride in the fact that we have a lot of kids who will start with us when they're 16 and work all the way through college with us. My director of recreation - who runs the whole area - started when he was 15 years old and he's been with us ever since!"
Todd said it's not only good to create summer jobs, but they usually see in between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors to Lanierworld from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so the help is needed.
When asked about future developments, specifically a casino, Todd said he doubted they would see a casino on the property anytime soon.
"That's an issue with the state. Several years ago I did visit Dover Downs in Delaware, which is a hotel right on the NASCAR race track... if that becomes an option in the future, I don't know."
Also on the docket for developments, a plan for the site of the former PineIsle is in the works. The hotel was closed in 2006 and Todd called it the best piece of land on the property. He said they hoped to have something there in two to three years. He also said they wanted to do something with the secondary golf course that had been closed and that it may return as a smaller golf course or another hotel space.
Todd said out of all the money invested in Lake Lanier Islands, no tax payer dollars were used to updated or manage the property. Todd said all of the funds are either private or reinvestments. The state owns the land Lanier Islands occupies and it is leased to them long-term to the resort.
As members of the coalition entered the resort and park, there was evidence of elves and holiday helpers. Several of the light displays for Magical Nights of Lights were already in place and waiting for visitors.
"This is our 25th year of Magical Nights of Lights and we are really excited about that," said Todd. "We have some new things, I'm assuming you couldn't miss the... 70 ft Christmas tree in the roundabout. We're also bringing back an old feature back this year. We had to pull it two or three years ago because of the condition it had gotten in but our 12 Days of Christmas display is coming back. That's back by popular demand - when we had to pull that we got fried pretty good on social media!"
Magical Nights of Lights begins November 17.