Developers planning a 325-acre resort on Hartwell Lake along Interstate 85 have found a government agency ready to pursue building an outdoors center that will make the resort an overnight destination and hub for Upstate outdoors attractions. Michelle McCollum, director of the S.C. National Heritage Corridor, said she expects the agency’s Great Outdoors Center to open in early 2017 and potentially attract 700,000 people a year to Sanctuary Pointe.
“The stars are aligning right now,” McCollum said of the center and resort, which are separate but will share the site. She said construction of the Great Outdoors Center campus could begin later this year.
“We are working very closely with them,” McCollum said. “We feel each project enhances the other. It makes the entire Upstate an outdoors recreation destination.” She said the Great Outdoors Center will also contribute to Oconee County’s rebranding effort to complement its outdoor attractions, which include whitewater rafting, hiking and camping.
McCollum and Sanctuary Pointe developer Robert Daffin both said the projects will also benefit Upstate residents and businesses generally. He said “nobody has ever coordinated the Upstate.”
Daffin said the outdoors center enhances the appeal of the resort to be developed about midway between Atlanta and Charlotte. His group has searched since 2013 for an upscale hotel partner for the project that is to include a golf course and conference center. Daffin said “the move to bring the Great Outdoors Center just kind of happened early this year.”
“We are trying to move it along as fast as we can,” Daffin said. “People kind of thought we disappeared but actually we have been doing a lot of work.” He described the Great Outdoors Center campus as a “brick-and-mortar type of facility to promote outdoor recreation and conservation and preservation.” He said for visitors looking for an outdoor experience it “would be a have to try it out.”
Daffin said there will be “zip lines and canopy tours. There will be excursions run out to the waterfalls and mountains. Then we will have a lakeside center where people can learn how to kayak and canoe. There will be classrooms and programs on the outdoors and conservation.”
The “trend nowadays in vacations, people come to relax, but after a couple of days they want something to do,” Daffin said.
Daffin’s group, Sanctuary Pointe LLC, has a 50-year sublease with the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism on the site that includes 7 miles of lakefront. The department leases the tract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Daffin said his group is “working with the state and the Corps to incorporate the Great Outdoors concept into Sanctuary and have a major focus on outdoor recreation. It’s a big undertaking. It makes Sanctuary Pointe something that is pretty unique.”
McCollum said the planned Great Outdoors Center — potentially an $8 million campus with facilities for archery and various outdoors educational programs — will add about 400 construction jobs and 350-400 permanent jobs. She said the campus — including a main building, adventure center, lakeside center and an S.C. Department of Natural Resources archery facility — will be an overnight destination unique in the Southeast and is already supported by state and federal agencies, among others.
“We have not talked to one single person who has not felt like this was a game changer for the Upstate. Everyone is positive and highly excited,” she said.
The S.C. National Heritage Corridor was designated by Congress in 1996 as a National Heritage Area, a program of the National Parks Service. The program in South Carolina is designed partly as an economic development driver with a goal of “promoting and preserving the cultural, natural and historic resources of South Carolina.” The corridor has more than 200 official discovery sites, ranging from agritourism to historic sites to outdoor recreation sites.
McCollum said the Heritage Corridor “will bring some finances to the table.” Corporate and foundation sponsors are being sought, she said.
“What we are doing here with this project is pulling in a variety of funding sources,” McCollum said. She said there is not a rendering of the Great Outdoors Center available yet.
“Big Cedar Lodge (Ridgedale, Mo.) is kind of the look we are going for the site,” she said. “We looked at Pennsylvania Wilds (Warren, Pa.). Everything we are going to build is going to have an Appalachian rustic elegance feel. We want the entire look and feel and ambiance to immerse people.”
McCollum said the resort will be “upscale quality overnight accommodations” and there will be transportation provided across the region. “The fact the entire site is open to the public is benefiting us,” she said. “It allows us to bring in overnight guests so people can use us as a jumping-off point for various things,” including downtown Greenville and Anderson. “The longer we can keep them here, spending money in our communities. It’s a win-win,” she said.
Source – GSA Magazine