If you didn’t know any better, you’d think John Lake was trying to sell interest in a timeshare. He’s well known as a former city councilman and remains an enthusiastic advocate for all things Daphne. But in his current role as a board member for the Lake Forest Property Owners Association (LFPOA), he’ll soon help cut the ribbon on $700,000 worth of improvements to an ailing waterfront attraction, and he hopes the community takes notice.
During a brief tour of the Lake Forest Yacht Club (LFYC) last month, Lake emphasized all the planned amenities: renovated bathrooms, flexible banquet areas, ample bar space, comfortable furniture and a gas fire pit, to name a few. But despite a new facade and a view of the sun setting over the Mobile skyline that rivals any venue on the Causeway, you’d be hard-pressed to find a place to moor a yacht.
The city of Daphne recently completed an $800,000 GOMESA project to dredge the boat channel in D’Olive Bay, but the derelict docks, which are unsafe to traverse, remain mired in silt dating back to the 1970s. The yacht club was originally constructed as an amenity for the neighborhood, but it became a destination for boaters and diners.
Lake said in recent years it fell into disrepair, but LFPOA spent money to secure the foundation. The restaurant was closed during the pandemic, and the board made the decision to go ahead and complete a near full renovation.
“It used to be in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, this place was jumping,” Lake said. “There was a seafood buffet down here that would sell out. It would be so full the kitchen staff would have to truck dirty dishes up to the country club because they couldn’t wash them fast enough.”
The Lake Forest Country Club has since been demolished, and some residents of the neighborhood have questioned the feasibility of renovating the yacht club. But Lake said the improvements will make the facility desirable and marketable, and hopes it will be embraced by the public.
“This used to be the money maker for the POA,” he said. “It carried everything financially. We’ve done studies and know what it will take to break even or turn a profit. Some people are just going to be negative about it, but once it opens, this facility is going to be the place where everybody will want to come and have their events.”
LFPOA is currently holding elections and while Lake is not on the ballot, nine other candidates are. One, Cathie Marx, said she’s optimistic about the yacht club’s renovation, but she’d like to see more input from members before the board makes any other drastic financial decisions.
“It’s a done deal so we have to make it work,” she said. “They said they are going to invite the public in and I agree with that, I think we need to refine it and promote it and advertise to get more people coming in. There was a lot of pushback from homeowners when they started, but [the board] said if it’s not breaking even in two years they could lease or sell it.”
Lake acknowledged a future lease is not out of the question.
“If it doesn’t make money, this is rentable,” he said. “Before it wasn’t. Nobody would take it. But we’ve done this project on budget. We’ve looked at everything frugally, how to make this work expense-wise. I personally believe this will break even and make money.”
Lake said the yacht club aims to open in April for lunch and dinner, and LFPOA members will receive discounts on food and priority reservations. Ideally, there will be entertainment on the weekends and if any night should be slow, Lake said most of the facility can be temporarily mothballed to cut down on operational expenses.
The board has partnered with a new American Legion post to lease a small shed on the property, and Lake said post members are volunteering work hours on the facility in return.
“We’re looking at trying to keep expenses down, but also have quality food and reliable service,” he said. “It has to be the kind of place you want to come to and enjoy with your family and friends.”
Marx is more reserved.
“Anything is an improvement over what we had,” she said. “[The renovations] are looking good and if we can get good help and a good menu maybe we’ll have a chance at making it work.”
LFPOA will hold its annual meeting at the yacht club April 23.
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