Tishomingo County’s economic prospects received strong encouragement Monday with Gov. Haley Barbour’s signing of a bill allowing liquor sales at a much-sought development on the federally controlled Bay Springs Lake, a reservoir on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
The special resort status bill was carefully managed and pushed by economic development supporters in Tishomingo County, including the Board of Supervisors, the development foundation and the legislative delegation. It is an essential step in bringing a $300 million investment by Martel Resorts to Bay Springs, near Belmont.
Final approval must be granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the 1,000 acres of shoreline property where the resort would be built, and the Corps controls the waterway itself.
While the Corps of Engineers’ approval isn’t automatic, many precedents exist for resort development and private concessionaires on federal properties and rivers, and in national parks. Earlier conversations over the past three years with the Corps paved the way for the proposal.
The Martel company has successful resorts in Steamboat Springs and Aspen, Colo., and in Sarasota, Fla. It markets itself, in part, as a waterfront property expert.
An official presentation to Tishomingo County elected officials and civic leaders in July 2008 started the formal effort.
Martel says it would invest $300 million in taxable property for the resort, which would have two 18-hole golf courses, a nine-hole course, several hundred rooms of accommodations, a marina, restaurants and other amenities.
Martel’s official presentation says the resort would have 400 full-time employees. That’s roughly the equivalent of a medium-sized manufacturing plant.
It should be noted that Marriott Hotels has a high-rise resort property on the Tennessee River near Florence, Ala., and resort developments are thriving on the river in Tennessee and in Mississippi, only miles from the proposed Martel property.
The necessity of a resort liquor status was specified in the July presentation. While its approval bypassed a liquor referendum, the resort status comes with limitations on how liquor can be sold, including a retail package store prohibition.
Opposition to the liquor status is not unexpected. Tishomingo is a conservative county, although liquor is widely and openly consumed in the vacation homes and marinas along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. The private vacation properties are a major source of Tishomingo County tax revenue.
Martel also has pledged to design the property in parallel with Audubon International, to ensure environmental integrity.
Economic opportunity has been snatched several times from the county’s hands. This time, it holds its destiny largely in its grip.
NEMS Daily Journal