Dream Big Burnside Authority receives $100K state appropriation for feasibility study

Study will explore the long-term potential of making General Burnside Island an overnight tourist destination

SOMERSET, KENTUCKY (May 22, 2024) – The Dream Big Burnside Authority celebrated a legislative victory today, during National Travel and Tourism Week, as members accepted a $100,000 appropriation from the Kentucky General Assembly for a feasibility study to guide the future of General Burnside Island State Park.

Conducting a feasibility study is the next step in being prepared to issue a request for proposal to develop the island through a public-private partnership (P3), which the Dream Big Authority has been working toward since its inception in 2021. A joint effort between the City of Burnside and the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) with a nine-member board comprised of tourism and economic development professionals from across Pulaski County, the Dream Big Authority seeks to partner with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to add a lodge, restaurants, a conference center and other amenities to General Burnside Island.

The feasibility study will assess the long-term potential of such a project with the advice of developers, scholars, and community stakeholders, and will be conducted with five goals in mind: (1) describe consumer demand for the project, (2) estimate economic impacts on the region, (3) provide details on similar projects, (4) estimate development costs, and (5) identify potential funding sources and options to move forward.

Developing General Burnside Island would accomplish what the late Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler set out to do in 1958 when the U.S. Congress transferred the title for Burnside Island to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to create a public park. According to the Congressional Record, following an initial development phase that included a recreation area with a swimming pool, picnic tables, grills, a group camp, tent/trailer area and golf course, Chandler envisioned the second phase of development would include “a central building, eating and sleeping accommodations, and the like,” according to a letter from the state’s commissioner of conservation at that time.

More than 65 years later, General Burnside Island continues to resemble the first phase of this vision, despite the creation of Dream Big Burnside and a 2022 directive from the General Assembly to develop a comprehensive statewide proposal to enhance Kentucky’s state park system through public-private partnerships.

SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler said he appreciates the General Assembly’s commitment to helping develop a firm foundation for General Burnside Island’s growth and success as an overnight tourist destination. He said he is also grateful to the attorneys of Frost Brown Todd LLP, experts in P3 projects, who have helped guide the Dream Big Authority through this process.

“No one said this would be an easy and quick process,” Girdler said. “If so, it would have been done decades ago. We remain committed to pursuing the original vision laid out in 1958 when Congress transferred the title of Burnside Island to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Our community is united behind this effort and we are thankful to our state legislators for recognizing the incredible opportunity in front of us by providing funding assistance. Their legislative approach is helping us obtain our goal of creating job opportunities for our citizens, increasing tourism and lodging opportunities, and enhancing the quality of life for our people.”

Lake Cumberland Tourism Executive Director and Dream Big Authority Vice Chair Michelle Allen said she is thrilled to announce this appropriation during National Travel and Tourism Week, a time dedicated to celebrating travel’s essential role in stimulating economic growth, cultivating vibrant communities, creating quality job opportunities, inspiring new businesses and elevating the quality of life for Americans every day — all of which will be accomplished by developing Burnside Island.

“I am so grateful to the General Assembly for seeing the value in exploring the potential for bringing overnight accommodations, culinary experiences and conference amenities to Burnside Island,” Allen said. “This feasibility study will help pave the way for us to transform this beautiful recreational island into a thriving tourism destination, which was intended from the very beginning. I look forward to discovering what’s possible and developing forward-thinking, strategic plans for Burnside through this process.”

Girdler and Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson have testified before state legislative committees and met with the Kentucky Department of Parks about the potential of establishing a public-private partnership. They are hopeful this feasibility study will jump-start an agreement to do so in Burnside, where it is of critical importance, Lawson said.

“The economic impact of producing a successful lodging and commercial venue in the heart of Burnside cannot be understated,” Lawson said. “Enacting the vision of the Dream Big Authority will directly improve the quality of life for Burnside residents through the provision of new employment opportunities, an influx of fresh tourism-related dollars to small-owned, local businesses, and a novel entertainment district for all ages to enjoy. The ripple effect of developing an attractive location bordering the picturesque lake waters and cloaked in General Burnside Island’s scenic beauty will further establish Pulaski County as the heart of Lake Cumberland and will serve as a regional showpiece locale for citizens and guests of the area alike.”

Lawson said the City of Burnside supports the Dream Big Authority’s recommendation to enact a preliminary assessment of the area. Both entities openly welcome mutually beneficial cooperation by Kentucky State Parks through the process, he said.

“The City of Burnside wants to specifically acknowledge the immense contributions of Chairman Chris Girdler and the other Dream Big board members for making this vision a reality and for maintaining a community-oriented mindset throughout,” Lawson said.

Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson thanks state legislators for helping the Dream Big Authority explore making General Burnside Island an overnight tourist destination with a $100,000 funding appropriation