Big changes anticipated for Branson's historic lakefront

Saturday, December 1, 2001

BRANSON, Mo. -- For decades, Branson's quaint old lakefront resorts and restaurants have closed for the winter. This time, though, some of them won't reopen.

The city plans a convention center to replace the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, high-rise condominiums where retirees now park their campers, and a boardwalk instead of a blacktop trail frequented by foraging geese. The whole project will cost an estimated $150 million.

The owners of 24 downtown properties covering about 31 acres expect to receive their final payments from the city around Dec. 10. They'll then have 30 to 90 days to vacate their businesses, which include 13 resorts, five restaurants and a trailer park.

The city will lose or move some longtime businesses, including a campground established in 1924.

Longtime restaurateur Dimitrios Tsahiridis said he's delighted with the changes coming to the lakefront.

He hasn't said how much he's being paid to sell his three downtown parcels. His floating restaurant may be moved to another site along the lakefront, and he may manage it. Or he may just retire at age 54, he said.

With his family, he opened Dimitri's on the lakefront in 1977. The place soon became known for its gourmet fare and the panache of Tsahiridis, who -- wearing a white tuxedo -- prepared table-side Caesar salads and flaming desserts.

The lakefront has gone downhill in the past few years, he said.

"I was looking every day, and my heart was crying," he said. "I always have dreams something like this comes to the waterfront, but I never thought it would be so big."

The emotions are different for a newcomer to the lakefront. On March 1, David Cushman purchased the Sammy Lane Resort, the oldest resort in Branson, built in 1924. Cushman, a longtime Branson business owner, said he was remodeling the residence at the resort so his family could move in when developer Branson Landing LLC offered to buy the property on May 10.

"I was like: You've got to be kidding," Cushman said.

Cushman said he didn't want to be the only holdout because he felt that could have meant an extended court battle.

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