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ATLANTA-In one of the most complex deals of its kind this year, Gwinnett County investor Virgil Williams and his family have purchased the leasehold rights to the 1,100-acre Lake Lanier Islands resort from Orlando-based CNL Hotels and Resorts for $14.5 million. The Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority approved the deal late Wednesday, area industrial brokers familiar with the property tell GlobeSt.com. The resort is 30 miles northeast of Downtown Atlanta.

The transaction gives the Williams family operating rights to the 31-year-old enclave that includes the Beach and Waterpark; the 216-room Emerald Pointe Resort and its conference center and golf club; 30 villas; several restaurants, equestrian and camping facilities; and Harbor Landing, a boat hub. Area tourist sources tell GlobeSt.com Lake Lanier Islands attracts an average 750,000 visitors annually.

Besides the green light from the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority, the state agency that oversees the resort, Williams also needs an OK from the Army Corps of Engineers that owns the land. If approved, Williams’ annual rent to CNL will be $3 million plus 3.5% of the resort’s annual profits, brokers intimate with the deal’s terms tell GlobeSt.com.

Williams couldn’t be reached by GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline to learn when he plans to start renovating the property. But marketing consultants who have worked on comparable properties nationally tell GlobeSt.com Williams would need to invest another $5 million to upgrade the aging resort. The resort’s facilities are open to the public.

Identifying ownership and operating entities for the resort is often complex, brokers tell GlobeSt.com, because the Army Corp of Engineers first leased the property to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in 1974. The DNR then created the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority to run the resort. But in 1996, the Authority and the DNR sold lease rights to the resort for the first time to KSL Lake Lanier Inc. for $9 million.

CNL Hotels and Resorts bought KSL in April 2004. CNL officials previously said the resort did not fit into its existing hotel and resort portfolio.

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