How do you improve on something that’s already great?
That’s the question that Robert Morey is faced with as the new owner of Bienville Plantation in White Springs, Florida. Renowned for its hunting and fishing, Bienville Plantation has long served as one of America’s premiere destinations for outdoors activities
When asked why he considered the property for purchase, Morey replied, “It was such a unique opportunity. The property had been mined and reclaimed. The result was breathtaking, with dozens of beautiful lakes, all of which had a rich history of bass fishing. The numerous quail fields, abundant waterfowl and other wildlife amazed me. But what stood out to me was, despite the efforts of the previous owners, the property was being underutilized.”
A real estate developer originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Morey saw promise in Bienville Plantation – and a number of ways to broaden the horizons of the popular hunting and fishing destination.
“I have several concepts that I’m working on, but we’re going to take things very slowly.”, he said. “My primary goal is to improve on what is already working. Our bass fishing is legendary. I intend to make it better.”
Admittedly, Morey isn’t an avid fisherman or hunter. Yet he feels like he knows what needs to be done to expand on the allure of Bienville Plantation and attract outdoorsmen, not just from the region, but from around the world.
“The previous owners, though they did a phenomenal job here, had just gotten to a point where this was kind of a footnote for them,” he said. “It seems like they kind of lost some of their interest in the property. What we’ve done is come in – and taking baby steps, we are beginning to look at ways to invigorate the plantation.”
Those baby steps include working with the University of Florida to manage the lakes and bass population, as well as upgrading the hospitality efforts at the plantation.
“We’re upgrading our cabins, replacing linens, bedding, fixtures, and a lot of not so subtle things that have been the status quo,” he said. “We’re really focusing on trying to create a customer experience that goes beyond anything they’ve had up to this point.”
That customer experience extends to Bienville Plantation’s corporate clients, providing then a unique, one-of-a-kind experience with their customers.
“The Ferguson Corporation has been one of our clients here for over a dozen years. They use Bienville Plantation as a rewards program for their top salesmen and top customers,” Morey said. “It creates a unique relationship-building experience when they come here. The client and customer both come here, stay in a cabin together, share meals together, and fish or do other activities together. Many guests share with us that they will buy from Ferguson whenever possible in hopes of qualifying to come back to the plantation”.
“These people come back year after year. We want to make sure that we keep that type of relationship incubator here for our corporate clients,” he said.
Of course, Bienville Plantation isn’t just for large corporations; the group annually hosts hundreds of smaller groups and individuals who visit for a unique hunting and fishing experience. Bienville Plantation offers lake leases, guided bass fishing, deer, quail, gator, and duck hunting, among other experiences.
“If you’re an outdoorsman, this is your playground,” Morey said.
Despite all of that, the property has only been used to about 15 to 20 percent of its capacity. That means there’s room to expand.
Recently, Morey said they opened the plantation up for weddings, a 3D archery range, and kayak bass fishing – which have both been huge early successes! In the future a sporting clays course, a biking trail, and a BMX course are in the works. Other new opportunities will include Falconry Classes, Raptor Encounters & Horseback Riding.
“One of the great things about having 11,000 acres is that you can do a lot of things on one part of the property that will not affect activities that are going on elsewhere on the same property”.
Morey is also in the process of adding a weapons training and self-defense training courses that will culminate in a Gunfighter 101 course for people who may have a concealed carry permit but aren’t that familiar with guns.
“It will teach people how to be safe, how to react in a stressful situation, teaches people how to move and shoot, how to reload, how to shoot from cover, how to deal with shooting in a stressful environment,” he said. “Let’s face it, you’ll never be attacked by a target.
“You have to teach people to be safe,” Morey said. “It’s a responsibility to carry a weapon.”
Morey notes that while Bienville Plantation has been marketed as a guy’s place in the past, he hasn’t forgotten about the ladies – he is considering adding a conference center that features a pool and spa to provide spa treatments and massage therapy.
At some point there is the possibility of residential developments on property, allowing people to actually live the Bienville Plantation experience.
Of course, ideas are just that – ideas. Morey admits that some may come to fruition while others may not, but if he believes they serve a purpose in revitalizing the property, there’s a good chance you’ll see them in the coming years. Future expansion isn’t just good for the property. Morey believes that a revitalized, stronger Bienville Plantation can help strengthen the North Florida economy as well.
“We want to make sure people understand that our goal is to be good neighbors,” he said. “We’re making an effort to use local resources, hire local contractors, buy supplies and materials locally. Some of these events we host will bring between 1,000 and 4,000 people here. That’ll put people in hotels. They’ll eat at the restaurants in our tri-county area. Every area business will benefit from it.”
“We intend for Bienville Plantation to take a leadership role to strengthen our community,” he said. “And in the process, we will become even more of a paradise than we already are”.
How do you improve on something that’s already great? That’s how…