Lake Martin is still in the baby years of a new era.
Wait a minute, you might think. Lake Martin? New? I thought that Martin Dam was completed in 1926. How can any part of it be new?
Although the utility company, Alabama Power Company, owns Martin Dam, the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee issues the license to operate it. Every 30 or 35 years, FERC makes Alabama Power Company apply for another license.
New licenses mean new ways of acting around here. Two of the biggest recent changes under the most recent license are that a) during the winter, the water level will be dropped a total of 7 feet instead of 10 most years, and b) the summer full pool can be maintained until Oct. 15 if conditions are sufficient, including adequate rainfall.
In the pages of this magazine, verily, in the paragraphs of this column, a lot of speculation has been made about the possible effects of the new license period that started three years ago.
This winter, I have noticed several local businesses that have made big investments, the sort of which, in my outsider third-party opinion, are obvious indicators of their confidence in the future of Lake Martin. Again, please let me be clear, I am not an employee of any company mentioned below. These are just my opinions, but they seem like pretty well founded opinions to me.
The first example is that Russell Marine, a subsidiary of Russell Lands, is expanding and building a new boat superstore on U.S. Highway 280. This is a huge deal!
According to a Jan. 9, 2019, article in The Alexander City Outlook, “In a move that could christen a new era of retail development along U.S. Highway 280 in Alexander City, Russell Lands is investing millions of dollars in a new boat dealership, rigging facility and lifestyle store that could open by next spring.“
This shows Russell Lands has huge confidence in not only on-the-water lake business but also off-water as well. I am not sure what a proper analogy would be because it is such a fresh move for a company that, heretofore, has kept its marine business totally lakeside. To me, this big step reminds me of a decade ago when Russell Lands built Russell Crossroads, a retail town center community near Kowaliga Bridge on Lake Martin. As an outside observer, I don’t know the numbers behind either investment, but the fact that they are creating an entirely new campus shows me a lot.
That same article in The Outlook mentioned that Russell Marine was the No. 3 ranked marine dealer in North America in 2018. When a company that prosperous opens a new effort like this, everyone should stand up and applaud. The fact that this is a local company should not blunt our appreciation, nor dim the realization that more retail will follow.
The second example of local companies making big investments can be seen at Harbor Pointe. Harbor Pointe Marina on Lake Martin is inside the gates of StillWaters, one of the largest waterfront residential neighborhoods on the lake. Anyone that has driven to Harbor Pointe recently may have noticed that bulldozers have been hard at work in some off-water parcels near the marina.
Harbor Pointe is expanding as well, having outgrown its waterfront space. Whether this new development will be used for more boat storage space or more retail space, I have no idea. You would have to ask them. The point is that this impressive move shows that Harbor Pointe also has great confidence in Lake Martin’s future. It is the ultimate money-where-your-mouth-is move, and I am really excited about it.
Harbor Pointe’s expansion is interesting in that it will not be able to rely on a major U.S. highway to provide additional traffic. Harbor Pointe is smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. StillWaters is pretty unique to the lake in that it is situated over large acreage, has a golf course and a restaurant, on-water homes and condos and off-water homes and condos. It is a mixture, and my suspicion is that its mixture attributes to its strength. At any rate, more capacity at marinas like Harbor Pointe will continue to make little ole Lake Martin a huge player in the national boating industry.
So I know that I join many others in saying well done and congratulations to those at Russell Lands and Harbor Pointe. As I said above, this is really positive and huge news. I realize these are not new companies coming in from foreign lands with great fanfare and pomp, but that should not keep us locals from celebrating. New jobs and opportunities are always fabulous news, whether the companies are new to town or homegrown.
John Coley is a broker and owner of Lake Martin Voice Realty.