Feature Article - October 2015
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Making Waves

Municipal Waterparks Getting More Competitive

By Joe Bush

Waterpark Pioneers

Loose said that Water World began in 1979 after city officials met a slide salesman at a trade show the year before.

"Our plan was simple: Could we create a new, unique recreational opportunity for our residents that would also have the potential to generate much-needed revenue for our district?" Loose said. "After building the first two waterslides in the Rocky Mountain region, it was off to the races as they exceeded all of our projections."

The next step was funding to expand the park. The original construction budget for Water World in 1980 was $1,755,500, Loose said, and the final cost was $1,886,684 because as the project was being completed, officials determined that additional amenities would be beneficial, including added landscaping and support facilities.

While that cost for an entire park is only a little more than today's price for a couple of state-of-the-art attractions, the Water World plan was focused, and it is still a model of a facility that not only pays for itself but can provide money for improvements and additional attractions, as well as help finance other city recreational pursuits. Loose described the monetary benefit as "many millions of dollars."

In 1979 the city passed a general obligation bond issue to begin the addition of a wave pool, and enhance some neighborhood parks. The park's fathers were very much pioneers, Loose said.

"At the time there were not many waterparks in operation, and we looked toward facilities that already had wave pools in operation, and also toward some of the existing waterparks at the time, such as Wet & Wild in Orlando," he said. "However, our uniqueness, in part, is that we are located on uneven terrain, which ultimately determined the type of ride mix we could accomplish through the years."

A Strong Foundation

So, though Water World seems to be exceptional in the category of municipal waterparks, its area and attractions were not built up overnight. The aim of re-investment can be achieved, and if a public entity already has a pool used for programming, it can count that as an additional advantage over commercial parks, which do not have classes for swimming or aerobics and do not make space and time for lap swimmers.

Typically, municipal parks are smaller because they're for the customer who's not willing to pay $30 to $40 for a ticket to get in.

"Municipal facilities are providing a service to the residents," said Steve Crocker, director of sport swimming for Water Technology Inc. (WTI), an aquatic planning, design and engineering firm based in Beaver Dam, Wis. "It's about health, it's about instructional programs. I've often said no one died from not playing enough golf when they were young, but you can die if you don't learn to swim."

Fees for those programs are nice, but do not typically amount to more than their operating costs. The pools used for them can be the foundation for a future waterpark, and features are many and may not be as expensive as they are fun.

"Typically, municipal parks are smaller because they're for the customer who's not willing to pay $30 to $40 for a ticket to get in, but they are popular because a lot of times they're in association with a regular lap pool," said Steve Brinker, head of the parks and recreations division of a waterpark features manufacturer and designer with headquarters in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.

"A lap pool typically loses money every year," Brinker added. "Whatever extra business they can gain with waterpark features allows them to cover more of their operating costs."

Brinker's company uses computer 3-D simulations to design slides that are safe yet thrilling, and while just the mention of that kind of sophistication implies more expensive equipment, he said the number of municipal projects using more than a standard slide is growing.

"Six or eight years ago, we were hardly doing any looping rides, wall rides, inner tube rides," he said. "It was basically just body slides, which are cool, but for a certain demographic. This year we'll do eight to 10 projects with those types of rides in them."