TDEC cutting park restaurant from budget

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
At the Henry Horton State Park restaurant for seafood Friday are, from left, Franklin residents Clyde Barnhill, Cheryl Bradley, and Charles and Marie Thurman.

State budget problems threaten to close Henry Horton State Park's restaurant, but the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation recently bought 386 acres near the park's campground for $966,553.

The November land purchase was Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett's response to TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke in the office of state Rep. Eddie Bass during a meeting last week when the restaurant was described as losing $240,000 last year.

West of Nashville Highway, north of the Duck River and divided by River Road, the property bought by the state "is land that surrounds the Henry Horton campground that will now remain protected and will maintain the integrity of the campground experience," TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Friday when asked why the state bought the land. "There is also potential for educational and living history programming on the property."

Liggett said Fyke advised him, Bass and others one week ago "that they're planning on closing the park's restaurant on Oct. 1."

Options were reviewed, the mayor said. One might be leasing the restaurant. Another idea is better publicity to boost business.

"One number Fyke gave us as a major reason (to consider closing or leasing the restaurant) is that it lost $240,000 last year," Liggett said.

The revenue from the restaurant was about $420,000, Liggett reported from the meeting including County Commissioner Tony White, state Sen. Bill Ketron, Lewisburg Industrial Developer Terry Wallace and Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board.

"So, they have to pick up nearly a quarter million dollars in revenue," Liggett said of the restaurant.

"They don't run parks to make money, but they do want them to be close to breaking even," the county mayor said.

Closing the restaurant could be the first of several dominos to fall, Liggett said, citing the golf course and the park's inn as potential victims if the restaurant is closed.

Profit-to-loss ratios show that restaurants at David Crockett Park and Natchez Trace might have to close, Liggett said, pointing to a restaurant revenue list showing they brought in $354,511 and $247,441, respectively.

All state restaurants have different operating costs, but the profit-loss ratio for the state park at Chapel Hill shows it's the biggest loser, Liggett said, reporting from the meeting with Fyke, the lawmakers and local developers on Feb. 10.

Fyke hasn't put restaurant closure on the table without knowing about the park, the mayor said.

"The commissioner has been to Horton Park; ate dinner there; brought his family there," Liggett said. "He and his family go to parks on Sundays...

"My main concern is to keep the park open and to keep an open mind on all the options," he said.

"If it does come to leasing it, we definitely want to have someone who has a proven track record of success," Liggett said. "It's going to take someone like that."

The park restaurant "struggled to come back since the closing" of state parks during the administration of then Gov. Don Sundquist.

Leasing "would be a last option," Liggett said. "But it ought to stand on its own like in the past. The key is to make it successful - a place that people enjoy going to.

"Leasing is not a guarantee that it will work..."

Meanwhile, officials gathered in Bass' legislative office seemed to agree that the park needs a "facelift," Liggett said, offering another idea for Fyke's consideration.

"It wouldn't make us mad if you built a convention center there to attract more people to the area," he said.

"With the economy down, construction prices are down," Liggett added.

Bass said he thought the "meeting went well... We're all working to maintain something at the park..."

The state representative is pleased that city and county leaders could be at the meeting with Fyke, and he said, "We need that restaurant there for the motel and the golf course. One will feed off the other."

Bass' preference is for the restaurant to continue to operate as it has, he said.