EXCLUSIVE: ‘One of the most ambitious projects in Alabama history’

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Jeff Tolbert, owner of Trident Marina, is moving into the second phase of Alabama’s largest economic development project, a one-of-a-kind premier destination resort on Smith Lake. (Trident Marina)

Phase 1 of Smith Lake destination resort complete

CRANE HILL, Ala. – Lewis Smith Lake, with its vast expanse of over 21,000 acres of waters, dotted with beaches and a handful of upscale waterfront restaurants, has long been a beloved summertime haven. It’s no surprise that Smith Lake draws in thousands of visitors each year. By 2027, these numbers could soar to new heights.

Jeff Tolbert, Cullman resident and owner of Trident Marina, is in the process of creating a one-of-a-kind premier destination resort, including a 5-star Marriott branded hotel, a conference venue, new boat slips, over 300 home sites, boat rentals and sunset tours, multiple professionally designed golf courses, outdoor hiking trails and offroad trails through a partnership with Polaris, a wedding chapel and guided rainbow trout fishing tours – along with new fine dining options.

“This proposed development on Smith Lake is one of the most ambitious projects in Alabama history. It will have a remarkable positive economic impact on Cullman County,” Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Dale Greer said. “No single project in Cullman County is comparable to this planned resort development. It means jobs, sales tax, property tax, lodging tax and significant tourism dollars. I am in awe of the plans and so excited that Cullman is his location of choice.”

This ambitious project is a significant undertaking for Tolbert. With phase one, the purchase of the hotel and conference center property is complete. All four phases of the project are expected to be complete within three years – by 2027. The tourist destination carries a projected cost of over $275 million, but the new resort property can potentially return millions to the economy. The resort and its amenities will require 2,500 acres of land, a substantial task for Tolbert and his team. Phase two, which is around halfway complete, is acquiring land for the resort.

Tolbert shared, “Right now, we have about half of that land committed and we hope to have the rest committed and ready by fall.”

Living by the motto “Any job worth doing, must be done well,” Tolbert said, he’s spent the last few months researching and delving into destinations around the country that exemplify the luxury vacation destination he has in mind for the area. After spending time at popular destination resorts such as Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri, Tolbert and his team are prepared to being that level of economic impact to Cullman County.

“Once it’s completed, it will employ over 300 people. It will increase the annual property taxes by several million dollars over what’s currently being paid for timber land. It’s anticipated that it will generate about a million and a half dollars annually in additional lodging taxes coming straight to the Tourism Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce,” Tolbert said.

Rumors of the coming attractions have been floating around the community, including murmurs of so-called “party barges,” relocating cemetery remains and the construction of a casino. Tolbert said he wanted to lay those unfounded rumors to rest.

“There will be no casino, we will not move buried remains and we definitely aren’t having a party barge,” Tolbert laughed. “When I think of a ‘party barge,’ I think of a pontoon boat on floats with a slide;, not a million-dollar yacht that can serve 50-plus guests a fine dining experience and be sailed by a Coast Guard-approved captain.”

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, said he believes the addition of the resort property will increase the popularity of Cullman, as well as the state of Alabama. He said the opportunities this brings to the area in the service, hospitality and business industries are unmatched, and the economic impact will benefit the community for years and generations to come.

“I believe this will be an amazing project for the state of Alabama, especially Cullman, Winston and Walker counties that border Smith Lake. This project has the opportunity, when it’s finished, to be the resort and conference destination for all of the Southeast that will only showcase our local tourist destinations like trout fishing at the dam, our OHV park and our year-round festivals in downtown Cullman,” Gudger said. “I am thankful that we have the chance to land this amazing project on Smith Lake, which will only strengthen our local economies. “

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