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Islands targets visitors with new attraction
Lanier World to include entertainment, beach, family activities
Lake Lanier Island Resort employees unload beach chairs Tuesday afternoon as the popular summer destination spot on the lake prepares for another busy season.

Riding off the success of the 2010 opening of Sunset Cove, Lake Lanier Islands Resort will unveil a new adult and family entertainment district this summer.

Lanier World is the latest step in what has been a six-year metamorphosis of the Islands that has included more than $75 million in renovating, rebuilding and rebranding.

"We're to the point that we had the product kind of right and then we started looking at what are the ways to start reintroducing the Islands as something new," Chief Operating Officer Grier Todd said.

Lanier World, which the resort has spent about $1.5 million renovating, will feature three distinct sections: Sunset Cove, Big Beach and the Family Fun Park.

Owner Virgil Williams, who purchased the resort in 2005, said Lanier World will tap into what he sees as a local need for affordable entertainment venues. A full-day adult admission to Lanier World's attractions will run about $32. Entrance for children older than 2 will cost about $18.

Williams said he's not concerned about opening an entertainment venue at a time when many Americans are trying to cut back on entertainment spending.

Lanier World, he said, will allow Georgians to stay close to home this summer and avoid high gas prices.

"If you're protecting your expenditures in this environment, this is where you're going to want to go to come and protect them because it's going to be a lot less costly," he said.

He's confident the venue will be well-received, especially, he said, considering the success of Lanier Islands' Sunset Cove, which opened last year.

Boaters came in droves to take advantage of the free boat docking, quick-dining restaurant and live entertainment. An aerial shot on July 4 showed 600 boats scattered across the cove.

But Lanier Islands management is the first to admit the resort wasn't prepared for the number of people who showed up on the shores.

There weren't enough employees or kitchen space. Customers waited on food for an hour or more.

"We didn't do it right," Todd said. "We just weren't prepared for it."

But Todd said he believes the chaos at Sunset Cove revealed a high demand for beachside entertainment on Lake Lanier. He hopes Lanier World will feed that demand and draw in not just boaters but also drive-in traffic.

"After we got through the year we sat down and said OK, what can we learn from this?" Todd said. "How can we apply it going forward as we look at a strategy?"

At the center of Lanier World is the resort's existing water park. Surrounding it is Big Beach, which will feature a new Italian restaurant and an expanded white-sand beach. At the far end of Lanier World is the Family Fun Park, which will feature a kids pool and carnival rides as well as "dive-in" movies on summer nights.

Entertainment venues and floating stages are scattered throughout Lanier World and management say extended hours will make the park accessible to a wide variety of users. While Sunset Cove closed at 6 p.m. last year, this year all of Lanier World will stay open until 11 p.m.

"We think it's going to take off," Todd said. "It's new. It obviously meets a demand that people have of wanting to come somewhere where there is entertainment and food. And also the expanded hours, we've heard for years people say they'd like to come in the evenings."

Sunset Cove is open for the season. The resort will get its first chance to gauge response to Lanier World at a grand opening Memorial Day weekend.

"We're doing it out of a love of our challenge of really creating something special for Georgians," Williams said. "And we're doing it out of our level of energy to create something better and different and unique."