When it comes to local knowledge, the pool of those with long-term familiarity of Lake Lanier and the marina business just got smaller. Alex Laidlaw retired from Suntex Marinas, which owns Holiday Marina, Lazy Days, Sunrise Cove, Allatoona Landing, Little River and Glade, after more than 30 years on Lake Lanier.
Laidlaw grew up in the boating business on the Chesapeake in Towson, Maryland. In addition to being an avid boater, he worked in the marine retail business during college at Towson State University in Maryland, working for E&B Marine Supply. His family also owned and operated a 14-store chain called BoatGear America, which was purchased in 1989 and eventually became West Marine.
By the early 1980s, Laidlaw was traveling the west coast of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi opening retail stores for BoatGear America.
“The last two stores I opened were in Atlanta, including the Doraville store in 1987,” said Laidlaw. By 1989, BoatGear took over the retail space at Holiday Marina and that was Laidlaw’s introduction to Lanier. Within a year, Laidlaw received a phone call that would change his career path.
“I got a call from Bill Anderson, president of Westrec, who asked me if I’d be interested in becoming the manager at Sunrise Cove Marina,” he said. “I knew from the moment I drove up over that hill and saw those 700 sailboat sticks on the lake, it felt like home.”
Laidlaw was 30 and on the cusp of a 33-year-career in marina management, most recently serving as Vice President of Operations for all Westrec Marinas and Area Vice President for the company’s three Georgia properties: Holiday on Lake Lanier, Sunrise Cove and Allatoona Landing Marine Resort.
“Within two years of becoming manager at Sunrise, the marina had more than doubled its income and Bill started sending me to other marinas in the Westrec portfolios to help make them profitable, Laidlaw said. “I became the lake guy working with marinas across the country.”
By 1995, he became regional manager for Westrec, which was expanding, and moved to Holiday Marina as general manager.
Laidlaw became active in the community, supporting the Holiday Classic Golf Tournament that for 24 years as benefitted the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” he said. “We’ve been raising more than $50,000 a year net to support the local clubs.”
He received the club’s Helping Hands award in 2012 and was recognized with the National Boys & Girls Club’s Medallion award in 2013.
On a national level, after earning his Certified Marina Manager designation, he began to serve on state-wide, regional and national boards.
Among his leadership in the marina business, he was Chair of the Association of Marina Industries, which represents more than 1,000 marinas, boatyards, yacht clubs, public/private moorage basins and other marine industry-related entities. He now sits on the AMI’s Emeritus Board of Directors, is a former board member of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the editorial board of Boating Industry Magazine, the Marine Environmental Education Foundation and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
These days, Laidlaw plans to just take time for himself and his family. Son Andy and his wife Anna have a 2-year-old son, Lucas; Andy is an electric journeyman. Daughter Amanda is married to Jake Alkire. “He is a great son-in-law and works for One Water Marine, so the legacy continues,” Laidlaw said. Amanda just graduated Summa Cum Laude in biology from the University of North Georgia. Both of them live in Dahlonega.
“I’m a boater – power, sailboat, fishing, coastal – and I’m a golfer,” he said. “Now I can work on my game more.” He will be playing and still hosting in this year’s Holiday Classic on October 13, the event’s 25th anniversary.
Music will be occupying part of his retirement as well. “I’m an old DeadHead, so I’m going on the road with them, attending concerts whenever I can. I first saw them when I was 18 in 1978, so I’ve been following their music from pretty far back.”
Laidlaw possesses a distinct perspective of Lake Lanier. When he came to the lake, Erwin Topper was operations project manager of the Lake Lanier Management office of the US Army Corps of Engineers. He has worked with two other operations project managers since then: Jonathan Davis and the now-operations project manager Tim Rainey.
“We’ve had a great relationship with the Corps of Engineers over the years,” he said. “It’s a partnership that has worked really well because we respect each other and have the common goal of providing a quality experience for the public and well as being a steward of the environment.
“I have watched Lake Lanier and its marinas over the years and how we have gotten to where we are today,” he said. “For instance, when I came here several of the marinas were still privately leased and managed, including Lanier Harbor and what was then Lan-Mar.
“Doug Beachem owned Lazy Days, which he created after his dad, Jack Beachem, sold Holiday in 1983,” he said. “The Beachem legacy goes back to the early days of Lake Lanier and I was proud to be associated with that history.
“Perhaps one my most proud accomplishments was being able to ‘reunite’ Lazy Days and Holiday when Westrec bought Lazy Days in 2016,” Laidlaw said. “It was a lifelong gift to put the two Beachem marinas on Lake Lanier back together. It was really something: a good business decision and solidifying the history and legacy. It all comes full circle. It’s been my honor to be able to serve the public on Lake Lanier.”
Photo: by Alan Hope