Elk Grove's proposed water park and aquatics center still in development

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 - 9:58 am

Elk Grove is forging ahead with plans to build a water park and aquatic center, an ambitious public-private project that will be part of the city's new civic center.

Local leaders hope the undertaking will elevate the Sacramento suburb into a regional destination and provide more amenities to residents.

"It's time for Elk Grove to be on the map and be a destination for tourism," Mayor Gary Davis said.

The combined aquatic complex – the first phase of the civic center – will sit on 20 acres south of Civic Center Drive and east of Big Horn Boulevard. Officials hope the center, which will also include a children's museum and library, will one day become the core downtown.

Financial responsibility for the $45 million aquatic complex will largely fall on the shoulders of a private operator. Under the current proposal, the city would shell out $14 million collected from development fees to fund the venture.

"It's a way to leverage more resources for the community with limited public investment," Davis said.

The city's tough terms have created a shortage of private sector partners. One potential operator has withdrawn from the bidding process, leaving Hawaiian Falls Waterparks the only company in the running. Hawaiian Falls, which has offices in El Dorado Hills and Dallas, is still working to draw up a proposal.

The new water park would add to the region's offerings, which include Raging Waters in Sacramento and Golfland-Sunsplash in Roseville.

"It will become a tourist magnet," said Hawaiian Falls CEO David Busch, who lives in El Dorado Hills. "From Cal Expo down to Fresno, all of that market is open and available."

A separate adventure park with recreational activities would complement the water park. Together, the attraction would create 250 jobs and draw visitors to area hotels, restaurants and shops, Busch said.

When completed, the aquatic center would feature an indoor Olympic-size pool, a second warmup pool and seating for 1,000 people. Officials believe the pools would help meet the needs of local swim teams. None of Elk Grove's six high schools has a pool.

Currently, the city has two public pools – the Jerry Fox Swim Center and the Barbara Morse Wackford Community and Aquatic Complex. Both are run by the Cosumnes Community Services District, which is independent of the city. Jerry Fox has a capacity for 280, while Wackford can accommodate up to 1,000 swimmers on any given day.

"Lanes are at a premium during spring and summer," said Bob Roessler, parks and recreation administrator for the district. "The lanes get tighter because we have swim lessons, high school teams and water aerobics."

Andy Brennan, an amusement park analyst with IBISWorld, said regional parks are riskier than large ones "because they don't have the marketing and financial backing of large corporations."

"With water parks, they are highly seasonal," he said. "Some will make up to 80 percent in the summer."

Adding a water park made financial sense, Davis said, because "aquatic complexes on their own are typically loss leaders for cities."

"We're trying to find a way to avoid that," he said.

In the last decade, Hawaiian Falls has built five water parks in the Dallas metro area through public-private partnerships. Under the framework, the company pays the locality a fee to operate the facility.

Construction on the Elk Grove park could start as early as January 2014 and wrap up in spring 2015, Busch said.

Some residents have questioned whether the elaborate plan might flop. The city has been toying with the idea of a new civic center for at least five years. The original plan included a performing arts center and even convention space.

Lynn Wheat, an Elk Grove resident who ran for mayor last year, voiced concerns about traffic and the project's footprint.

"Is this all going to fit into one area?" she asked.

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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