Fun on the Water

Water-Based Entertainment Adds Revenue, Builds Community

Natural waterfronts across the nation are broadening their appeal with water-based family entertainment centers, or WBFECs—a move that has not only added revenue, but also has helped enhance the communities surrounding these natural resources.

"Waterfront assets are often the most valuable areas of a property, and developing them into WBFECs is the best way for owners to leverage those assets," said Ron Romens, president of Commercial Recreation Specialists (CRS), a company that specializes in waterfront development and pioneered the WBFEC concept. "A combination of inflatable water-based play, beachfront seating and shade provides an immediate 'wow' factor and also offers the greatest dividends for the fewest dollars."

These WBFECs are the latest trend for small- to medium-sized waterfronts and municipal recreation areas that may have lost some of their appeal to nearby waterparks or other more exciting competition for family time. The goal of a WBFEC is to create a destination that is both fun and comfortable for the whole family, while staying within the owners' budget constraints.

Colorful modular inflatables and other highly visible amenities are the main attractions at these facilities, and, in turn, they feed other revenue-bearing amenities such as boat rentals and concessions. As a result, waterfronts that had lost their appeal become important assets once again.

Transforming the 'Mud Hole'

Troll Beach in Stoughton, Wis., is a prime example of such revitalization. This small-town community won the 2012 Wisconsin Parks and Recreation Association (WPRA) Outstanding Aquatics Facility Design Award for its transformed natural beach.

Just a few years ago, Stoughton's swimming pond was a declining "mud hole," as area locals affectionately named it. Competition from large regional waterparks left little interest for what was once the community's prized aquatic recreation facility. An inflatable challenge course, set up for a free community fun day, changed all of that.

"The people just loved it," said Tom Lynch, recreational director for the city of Stoughton. "We were able to see what this would be like if we purchased the inflatables. We used this to help us pass our budget."

Park officials also added other amenities, including shade structures, lounges and a concession stand, making Troll Beach an appealing destination for locals and out-of-towners alike.

The result?

"Within one summer, we doubled our attendance and quadrupled our revenues," Lynch said.

Bring on the Action

At Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Eufaula, Okla., a WBFEC targets families with children up to 13 years old. In 2009, this Jellystone purchased its first CRS inflatable, the Aquaglide Summit Express. It proved to be so popular that new pieces have been added every year since.

"We initially thought about adding a waterpark," said Al Sahli, owner of the campground. "But since we have shoreline on Lake Eufaula, which is the largest in Oklahoma, we decided to emphasize that."

As much as people enjoy the natural elements of sand and water, Sahli believes they also are looking for more action. They enjoy the fun and excitement the water inflatables, boat rentals and other water activities provide.

"Our guests come back every year and expect to see new inflatable pieces," Sahli said. "Since we started our business in 2008, we've actually doubles our attendance. Last summer we had 25,000 guests."

Saltwater Works, Too

The WBFEC concept also works well in open saltwater. Trade Winds Island Resort is the largest resort on Florida's west coast and is located on the island of St. Pete Beach in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have a lot of the same guests coming back every year, and we're always trying to come up with new and exciting things," said Travis Johnson, senior vice president of Trade Winds. "Our thought was, 'We don't have the real estate to develop a full-scale waterpark, but what if we float one right on the water?' Now we have the area's first floating waterpark."

Trade Winds offers its inflatable waterpark seasonally, from March through October, during which time it brings added interest to the resort's other attractions, which include fitness, golf and water sport activities.

"About 30 percent of our market is corporate group meetings, and they use the inflatables for team building activities, such as beach Olympics," Johnson said. "However, most of our rentals are for family activities like birthday parties. Different pieces appeal to different folks. We'll see mom, dad and the kids leisurely floating on an Airport Floating Lounger, and then we'll see more adventurous groups rocking and rolling on the Aquaglide Rockit."

Charitable Moves

When it comes to splashin' good times, Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, Pa., puts on a wipeout of an event—a WipeOUT Cancer event, that is.

Each year, this 100-acre resort hosts a competitive fun day. The event has become a huge success, daring "thrill seeking, cancer hating" individuals or groups to conquer its side-by-side Wibit inflatable challenge courses in the aqua park.

"The LIVESTRONG Foundation sponsors the event," said Stuart Schooley, president of Dutch Springs. "By hosting it, we get a lot of coverage, both TV and newspaper. It's a huge promotional benefit for us in all areas of our park."

That makes it a win-win, supporting a good cause and boosting the parks revenues through the season.

Summertime Fun

Quarry Beach in Sheboygan, Wis., is a beautiful natural quarry with picturesque rock formations that was popular with the locals, but too expensive for the community to maintain and staff. After an 18-month hiatus, a group of community members worked with CRS to reopen the facility as a WBFEC, emphasizing adventure and water sports. The location now offers inflatable challenge courses, boat and water sport rentals, beachfront seating, concessions, party rental facilities, wireless internet and more.

What makes Quarry Beach's first summer most notable, though, is how it thrived in the midst of challenge.

According to on-site manager Monica Garbisch, the city of Sheboygan issued requirements that necessitated a late start. "On top of that, it was a cool summer," she added, which made the conditions less than ideal for measuring the location's true potential.

All things considered, Romens of CRS was thrilled with the location's initial success.

"Families came from communities throughout the state—Milwaukee, Manitowoc, Green Bay," he said. "They even came from out of state. Most encouraging, Quarry Beach paid for itself in its first summer."

"Quarry Beach has had a long history as a place to come swimming, but adding fun activities for the whole family has generated so much more excitement," Garbisch said. "CRS' development of the adventure park has certainly benefited the entire community."

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