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Private firm to manage lodge
State funding renovations
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Management of the lodge, cottages and convention center at Amicalola Falls State Park in northern Dawson County will shift to a private hospitality firm on Dec. 1.

State Department of Natural Resources board members discussed a partnership with Naples, Fla.-based Coral Hospitality during a meeting Sept. 26 in Atlanta.

The move is part of the DNR's strategic plan for state parks to become self-sufficient and pay for themselves.

A full-service hospitality management company, Coral Hospitality has operated Brass Town Valley Resort in Young Harris since 2005.

Under the new partnership, Coral will also oversee management at Unicoi State Park, also in northeastern Georgia, beginning Nov. 1.

DNR spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said the move will allow the department to improve both the financial performance and guest experience at the two lodges.

"They are hospitality experts with experience in group sales, yield management, customer service, food and beverage, and conference services," she said.

"Coral's expertise well equips it to operate the state park lodges while enabling the DNR to focus more on its core mission of protecting the parks' natural resources and providing outdoor recreation to Georgia's citizens."

Also last week, the board announced a $3.9 million bond-funded renovation project to revitalize lodging amenities at Amicalola.

Hatcher said the lodge will remain open during the renovations, which are scheduled to begin in August and be completed by April 2014.

CEO Lee Weeks said he looks forward to the continued partnership in anticipation of renewing the vitality of state park's accommodations for visitors.

"We've really enjoyed our relationship with the DNR," he said. "We understand how state parks are run and the ramifications both politically and otherwise. We're getting this opportunity because we have been good partners with the state."

While the privatization will result in a loss of 70 positions from the park's payroll, Weeks said Coral Hospitality expects to fill many of its jobs with staff currently employed at the lodge.

"The staff is great. We've been up to the property and the staff is all very friendly," Weeks said. "We realize that they are our greatest asset. We'll benefit from them and they'll benefit from us, too.

"The employees will have the opportunity to reapply to Coral Hospitality. We'll rehire all the positions we'll need to be successful at this property."

In addition to lodge staff, Hatcher said several park and visitor center positions will be affected by the management change, though most "were offered transfers to other state parks."

Christie Haynes, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce and Convention Visitors Bureau, called Amicalola Lodge and State Park "a vital tourist attraction and an important economic driver for Dawson County."

"We are looking forward to seeing the positive impacts of the new renovations, which will expand the potential for tourism in our county," she said.

"I think I can speak for all of our citizens in saying how proud we are to live so close to such a beautiful natural destination and it will be great to see the destination improved to be even better for the many visitors that come each year."