Determining Feasibility

Developer hires consulting firm for proposed resort

By Kylie Hawn

Daily News Staff Writer

Progress is being made with the proposed development of Terrace Mountain Lodge and Hawn’s Bridge Marina.
 
According to project developer Rod Roberts of Austin, Texas, economic feasibility studies are currently being conducted on the proposed resort and marina, which will then be turned over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
 
“We’re going to be sending a couple of studies to (the USACE) toward the end of the month,” said Roberts. “From what they’ve told me, they’ll put a group together to review the proposal to see if they want to go forward.”
 
Roberts explained that by going forward, this means the USACE will decide whether to put the Hawn’s peninsula section of Raystown Lake back on its master plan.
 
After that time, the USACE will decide to put out a competitive bid for a lease to give Roberts and his team the opportunity to bid for the 400-acre section of Hawn’s peninsula.
 
The section in question was taken off the master plan by the USACE in 2004.
 
“They don’t want to start anything until they know we have a viable proposal,” said Roberts. “They’re putting that back on us, which is OK. That’s understandable. That’s where we are in the process. A lot could be happening in July and August.”
 
Amy Wise, executive director for Huntingdon County Business and Industry, explained a little more about what firm will be doing the study.
 
“The firm is called HVS, and they’re headquartered inDelaware,” she said. “They have extensive experience in the United States and worldwide for doing studies for marinas and hotels. This is important on numerous levels, because this is what their firm does and this is what they specialize in.”
 
Wise added that as part of these studies, representatives from the firm will be making visits to the site, and she’s excited to work with them and introduce the group to the county.
 
“We look at this as an opportunity to talk about the project and to introduce them to everything else,” said Wise. “Who knows who their next client may be, so we want to give them a good reception.”
 
She also pointed out doing these economic feasibility studies is considered a “leap of faith” on the part of Roberts and his team.
 
“The developer is expected to shell out a great deal of funds to do economic studies to prove it’s viable, but there’s no guarantee. We’re in a situation where someone believes in the project so strongly that they’re willing to invest this far. This is a significant risk for any developer without any assurance there will be a return on it.”
 
The last time a potential development was introduced was with the Upper Corners section of Raystown Lake, near Seven Points Marina, in 2006. HCBI worked in conjunction with USACE for a feasibility study of the area.
 
“That was different that in it was part of the master plan,” said Wise. “We went out to seek developers for a proposal to build a resort, but there were no solid leads, so it sat on the shelf.”
 
Documents from HCBI indicate that economic feasibility studies done in 2006 indicated it was an economically viable opportunity to put in a lodge with at least 40 rooms, outdoor gathering spaces, boat ramps, courtesy boat docking facilities, hiking and biking trails and other amenities.
 
With this project, Wise stresses this could add year round jobs to the area, but a feasibility study can determine things like how many rooms can a resort hold and whether adding a marina would be feasible.
 
The Upper Corners section of Raystown Lake still remains on the master plan.
 
Roberts also reiterated that this project won’t happen if this section of Raystown Lake doesn’t go back on the master plan with no opportunity to bid on a lease.
 
“It just doesn’t work,” he said. “You can’t put a resort in and expect your customers and visitors to drive around to the other side of the lake to have access to the water.
 
“From the public’s perspective, this is opening up land to the residents of Huntingdon County and its visitors,” Roberts added. “There’s a beautiful peninsula that’s wasted right now because you can’t get to it. Not only will there be a marina, there will be trail access interconnecting with existing trails. There will be trails on my private property that will connect to a more extensive grouping of trails on government property if they put it up for lease.”
 
Roberts and his team completed preliminary studies prior to the public meetings in March, and he believes the western side of Raystown Lake is a prime location for a development like this.
 
“People recognized this project can work, so now we’re securing the cooperation of USACE to put the land up for lease,” said Roberts.
 
“I’ve said many, many times, this development will be handled in a manner that’s aesthetically pleasing, adhering to all environmental regulations. Whether it’s the bats and building them bat habitats or the shale barrens we’re avoiding, we’ll conduct operations in light of that. We’re not going to do anything that will affect the environment in a negative way. This will be in complement with the environment.”
 
Wise noted once again that if this project moves forward, this means that only six percent of the land surrounding the lake will be developed, leaving 94 percent of the land untouched.
 
Currently, only four percent of land around Raystown Lake is developed, leaving 96 percent of the land undeveloped.
 
“That’s impressive,” said Roberts. “It just goes to show that (USACE) and the citizens of Huntingdon County have been diligent in not allowing a lot of development. A very small percentage is developed, and we’re proposing a very small percentage to be developed.”
 
Wise noted that political leaders and agencies have come out to support the USACE putting the Hawn’s peninsula section of Raystown Lake back onto the master plan, further exploring options for potential development.
 
Groups and political leaders include the Huntingdon County Chamber of Commerce, Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, Huntingdon County Commissioners, state Rep. Richard Irvin and state Sen. John Eichelberger.
 
“None of these groups and individuals are saying we should follow through without exploration,” said Wise.