Florida native has high hopes for Pt. A

Published 11:59 pm Monday, September 14, 2009

Leasing the Pt. A campground could prove to be a sweet deal for Thom Watson’s Sweet Home Alabama Campgrounds — at least that what he hopes.

Friday, Watson signed a five-year contract to sublease the Pt. A grounds from the Covington County Commission. The contract has two five-year renewal options and requires Watson to assume all maintenance, operation and insurance responsibilities for the property, which is owned by PowerSouth. By subleasing the property, the county is expected to save approximately $83,000 a year.

However, how much Watson expects to garner from the property is unknown.

“I know that it’s going to be dependent on how much time and effort I put into the property,” Watson said. “This is my full-time job now. I’m committed to doing it.”

The Jacksonville, Fla., native and Gantt Lake property owner said he’d been thinking of a possible business venture involving the campground “for six or seven years.”

“The property I have in Gantt, my dad bought it,” he said. “It used to be a campground and my dad ran it until it got to be too much for him. So you could say that the idea to have a campground has been in the back of my mind for six or seven years.”

Watson said when he made the decision to reopen his father’s campground, he called the Andalusia Chamber of Commerce to “check out the competition.”

“I knew that there was a campground in Gantt, but that was all I knew,” he said. “I called the Chamber to see if they could tell me who owned it and they referred me to the county. So I called them and asked if they would be interested in leasing it out.”

It turned out the timing was “as near to perfect as you can get,” he said, since the county announced earlier this year it was seeking someone to take over the Pt. A Campground.

“I knew (leasing Pt. A) was a good option for me because by building a campground on my property, I’d have to start from scratch,” he said. “And that would have taken a large chunk of money. Now, my plan is to start with Pt. A and hopefully, down the road, expand to the other property.”

There are 25 campsites/RV hook ups at the Pt. A campground, as well as a bathhouse, kitchen-equipped clubhouse, playground, swimming area and docks at the main site. Down the road is a handicapped fishing pier and boat launch.

Watson said he does not plan to make any major changes to the property.

“My main priority is putting a little ‘spit and polish’ on the place,” he said. “Clean it up, trim some limbs, paint some things, that sort of thing. I think that is the way to make money in this business, because for me it is a business.

“It all depends on repeat business and word of mouth recommendations,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people. Most are just glad to see someone come in with a purpose.

“This is my job now,” he said, explaining that he has been laid off from his previous job in February. “If I don’t make money, I’ll be starving.”

Watson said he plans to develop a marketing strategy, which includes building a Web site, and to make a few simple, but noticeable changes.

“First off, I’ve got to remind people this wonderful place is here, which means simply putting up a sign saying ‘Sweet Home Alabama Campground this way,’ and starting a reservation system,” he said. “They’re simple things, but my number one priority — and I laughed when people were telling me this was their number one complaint — is to get an ice machine. A sign and ice machine, I can handle that.”

Troy resident Dot Cobb and her husband frequently travel to the campground for a get-a-way and like not only Watson’s attitude but also his willingness to make his guests happy.

“When we came in, the spot we had didn’t have electricity for some reason,” she said. “Mr. Watson helped us move from that spot to this spot and helped run electricity here.

“I really like this spot — it’s to itself and you can just sit and watch the water,” she said. “I hope things work out for him. He’s been wonderful to us.”

For Red Level resident Dernell Berry, the spot has become his home-away-from-home, as he goes into his third week of camping.

“People are nice and friendly and the fishing is OK,” he said. “I like that.”