Feature Article - March 2014
Find a printable version here

Water Works

Make the Most of Your Waterfront

By Rick Dandes

If you have water, you have an amenity that can be transformed into a huge attraction. From small-scale projects at campgrounds to large-scale city parks and riverwalk projects, municipalities of all sizes are taking a serious look at how to get the most out of their natural assets, finding ways to re-imagine those spaces and even profit from it.

Although each project is unique, almost all of them begin with an un-utilized or under-utilized facility, either a pool or waterfront.

"The first step is to clearly understand the specific goals of the project," explained Peter Arpag, a brand manager for a manufacturer of inflatables, headquartered in Durham, N.C. "It pays to do preliminary research to fully understand any limitations, regulations and restrictions for the project. This could range from facility limitations such as water depth to regulatory needs like permits for waterfront moorage."

Inflate Your Water

Waterfront aqua parks featuring inflatables, docks and more may require permits at the municipal, state or even federal level depending on the site. Sometimes these permits are easy to get, while at other times permitting can be a long, slow process. Typically, the process is aided by having respect for potential environmental impacts and a desire to find good multi-use solutions.

Many parks and recreation departments have under-used pool facilities whose funding is in jeopardy. In this situation, spending more money can be a difficult step. One of the advantages of installing an aqua park system using inflatables is that the cost is relatively low compared to fixed waterslides and other amenities, while the attraction factor is quite high. This is a great advantage when it comes to budgetary constraints, because it's easy to show a strong return on investment, Arpag said.

Besides the relatively low cost and a strong ROI, many parks appreciate the flexibility of inflatable aqua parks. Having the ability to strategically re-task a part of the facility to increase traffic during key hours without the full commitment of a permanent structure is one of the more important aspects of a system. In some cases, it can take about 30 minutes to convert three swim lanes into an open-swim area that will excite and engage 30 or more participants. Once open-swim is over, the space can be easily re-tasked for lap swimmers.

People Want What's New

Existing clubs or marinas trying to upgrade their facilities will often start by improving their dockage, said John Krogman, director of sales and marketing of an Atlantic, Iowa-based aquatic dealer-manufacturer firm. "They come to us with different needs. Maybe they have an existing boat club or marina. It might be city owned or privately owned, but the key is they want to attract new customers to their area and keep their current customers. People are demanding great facilities. And if they are boat owners paying rental space, they want new docks."

Krogman suggested that for some waterfronts, complete systems utilizing floating docks can be used for both commercial and residential dock applications. "There are docks," he said, "that offer increased width, which allows for greater stability for deeper water applications and is a cost-effective way to provide increased accessibility to the water for both public and private installations."

People are looking for easy installation. After the contractor has gone and everything is in place, can those on staff take it apart easily, rearrange it or move it.

"A lot of municipalities with access to a waterfront." Krogman said, "are looking to create not only a destination, but also a way to create income." One thing to do is install transient boat slips, so while boaters are going up and down a waterway they can stop and do something. Maybe you have a restaurant on site. Another idea is to rearrange a system into a long, skinny dock for a rowing event. There are also a lot of jet skiers, so a lot of communities are making their docks available for water skiers. In smaller communities, you might build a dock with a rail around it so that people can come there and fish off the dock.

"My point," Krogman said, "is that by installing floating docks, you can provide a safe place to harbor while the boater eats, relaxes onshore and spends money."