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Feature Article - September 2011

Riding the Wave

Keeping Waterparks Afloat in a Choppy Economy

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Lots of people out there are lamenting the economy these days, but if you're in charge of a waterpark, you don't have to be one of them. Sure, the general lack of extra money in the coffers may have put your expansion plans on hold, but that same dearth of funding is probably keeping many of your would-be customers closer to home. So, don't despair. We've compiled this guide to help you maximize the cash you do have and grow your fan base through some creative fun with your community. From simple fixes and easy upgrades to inventive programming, plus marketing your every move, we've got an array of ideas to help you float to the top. Get ready to ride the (economic) wave. Hang ten!

Fast Fixes

Even if the latest and greatest new water roller coaster isn't in the budget, you can still spruce up your existing equipment and the park that contains it.

For the 2011 season, instead of anything new, the Magic Waters Waterpark, part of the Rockford, Ill., park district, did some renovating. Its tube waterslides had been in place since about 1988, but a new gel coating made them "like brand new," reported Jessica Steinberg, director of the waterpark and Rockford's aquatics department. They did some behind-the-scenes work on the pumps and motors as well.

If your park includes a pool of some kind, you can add interest inexpensively by bringing in some new activities. Things like basketball goals and volleyball nets can generate new interest in an older space, suggested Jeff Bartley, a principal at Water's Edge Aquatic Design in Lenexa, Kan. And there are even less expensive options in the world of waterslides. "A lot of manufacturers have a lower-priced deck-top-style slide," he said. "Large waterslides can be $100,000 on up, but if you're looking for a deck-top series, it might be in the $10,000 to $20,000 range."

But, some communities are completely strapped for cash at the moment, acknowledged Melinda Kempfer of the business development department at Water Technology Inc. (WTI), a Beaver Dam, Wis.-based aquatic design firm. If you happen to be located in one of those communities, "walk into your facility like you don't work there," she suggests. "Look at the entrance—is it inviting? Is there garbage everywhere? Does it need a new paint job?"

Many fast fixes, from a new coat of paint to a little landscaping to a general cleanup, do not involve the waterslides at your park. "Little facelifts can really brighten your facility up," said Toni Nigrelli, also of WTI.

Perhaps there's no money in the budget for frilly items like a giant water-dumping bucket on a pole, but safety will surely get your city council or board members' attention. One of the hottest trends in the waterpark world has nothing to do with zipping teenage boys faster and faster down a water chute. "There's a focus on water quality and treatment," Bartley said. "Safety and security for patrons is the most recent trend." He suggested adding a UV system to enhance your chlorine's disinfecting power and prevent even more waterborne illnesses.

Kempfer added that regenerative-media filters are another way to improve water safety, and they improve efficiency and reduce water use as well, which means they fit into another popular and endlessly sellable category: green.

"Everybody wants to be green," she said. And there are lots of ways of doing so that enhance public safety and your bottom line, as well as caring for the earth. Consider a high-efficiency boiler, if you happen to need a new one, or variable-frequency drives to help regulate your machinery's electricity usage.