Business & Real Estate

Rocklin quietly ended its contract with Quarry Park Adventures’ operator. What’s next for park?

When Rocklin’s Quarry Park Adventures finally opened to the public in October, city officials and locals hoped the ziplining, rock-climbing theme park would be a boon for the city, bringing in an estimated 120,000 visitors annually and energizing the neighborhood.

But in early January, the park – which operator officials said at its opening would stay open year-round – closed for the winter season because of “cold temperatures, rain and other weather conditions,” according to Rocklin City Manager Steve Rudolph in a press release at the time.

Unmentioned was that the city had also ended its 15-year contract with Legacy Family Adventure-Rocklin LLC, with little explanation why. The city ceased its operations contract with the Legacy Family Entertainment affiliate group Jan. 9, the same day the weather-related closure was announced.

“We just felt it would be best for the city and the park for a change,” said city spokesman Michael Young. “We were considering alternatives and we thought it was best to look for new options.”

When pressed for a specific reason for the split, he said, “that’s going to be our statement,” and that he couldn’t speak on the matter further.

Several phone and email requests for comment to representatives at Legacy Family Entertainment were not returned.

Now, a new contract with a different operator is on the table, as the city tries to reopen a park that has cost more than $3.25 million (not including the nearly $10 million spent on surrounding parking lots and structures).

As part of its initial contract with the city, Legacy was supposed to repay the city the roughly $4 million it anticipated building the park would cost.

But according to Young, the city “did not receive a debt service payment from LFA towards the $4 million owed as stated in the operations contract.”

In its first year, the park would make less than $500,000 in net operating revenue, according to preliminary revenue projections submitted as part of a 2018 contract agreement between the city and Legacy Family Adventure-Rocklin LLC. The park would crack $1 million in net operating revenue in year 4, according to the projections.

Young declined to state how much revenue the park has made since October.

New contract

Skipping a request for proposal process that would prompt a potentially months-long bidding process, Young said, the city is proposing a three-year contract with an affiliate group of Bonsai Design LLC, the company that was hire to build the structures and adventure elements within the quarry.

Bonsai, a Grand Junction, Colo.-based company, has designed, installed or operated more than 20 adventure parks across the state, according to its website.

Rocklin City Council will review a terms sheet next week that includes a proposed contract under which Rocklin would pay $300,000 this year in startup costs – including everything from insurance to guest wristbands and employees – to Bonsai Design. A formal operating agreement would be discussed and potentially approved March 12, according to a city report.

The city may also pay an additional $250,000 to finish “minor final construction” that remains, including lights and fans in one of the park’s facilities, and fencing and security.

Under the proposal, a debt repayment plan is not being considered, meaning the millions the city has already paid toward developing the area will not be returned by a park operator in the near future if the Bonsai proposal is approved.

Even before the unplanned winter closure, Quarry Adventure Park has hit several road bumps.

Its planned summer opening was delayed until October. And as late as July 2018, a month after its initial scheduled opening, city staffers were requesting the city to OK an additional $900,000 to build food structures, bathrooms, a deck, a potential “King Swing” attraction and $215,000 in “miscellaneous” expenditures, according to the July 10 City Council agenda.

The City Council approved the new funding, and though Young said permanent bathrooms were eventually built, the Qurarry probably will not have a sit-down dining experience.

The “King Swing,” contingent on available funds after other more pressing projects like the bathrooms were complete, would have cost $471,500, and a food service building and operation would have cost up to $486,898, according to a recently released city report. David Busch, president of Legacy Family Entertainment, told The Bee in October when the park opened that he expected the park would offer food service “that’ll put out really good food” and a “wine/beer and craft beer location” by spring.

Staff wrote in the city report, “it is not recommended” the city move forward with the King Swing construction, and Young said food service funds were never spent and structures were never installed.

Rocklin “is looking into the possibility of inviting food trucks to the park” Young said in an email, though he didn’t have additional details of the plan or funding.

Bonsai would receive 100 percent of revenue generated by the park until it exceeds operating expenses and repays any money pulled from the city’s $200,000 shortfall budget to make up the difference during months where costs exceed revenue.Then the city and operator would split the revenue, getting 50 percent each.

After this year, the city would pay at least $141,120 annually to Bonsai as a management fee to pay staff members operating the park.

Under the proposed contract, Quarry Park Adventures would stay open seven days a week year-round, including during the winter, with the exception of Christmas, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving. Bonsai would also honor season passes, tickets and gift cards that were previously sold by Legacy Family Entertainment.

Questions remain

Why the contract with Legacy Family Entertainment ended so abruptly is unclear. Despite hiccups in the park’s development, in public events, city groups and officials had been warm to the amusement park company, particularly its president, David Busch. He was nominated in 2018 for a business person of the year award from Rocklin’s Chamber of Commerce.

The city’s old contract outlines situations in which the city can terminate the agreement early, such as failure to make debt payments to the city, negligent park operations leading to severe injury or death, or the cancellation of insurance coverage. Young could not comment on which clause, if any, was violated to sever the relationship.

Busch has built a career out of developing amusement and water parks across the county, often by borrowing money from cities in public-private partnerships, according to a 2013 Dallas Morning News story.

He founded Hawaiian Falls Waterparks, which opened nine water parks throughout Texas. Some parks, like one in Pflugerville, Texas, opened to disappointing numbers. A park in Dallas lost $210,000 over three years, Busch told the Dallas Morning News, with the city ultimately ending its contract with Hawaiian Falls after a failed rebranding effort.

Pflugerville’s water park laid off several employees and closed for months in 2014 when revenue was much lower than expected. Other parks failed to come to fruition, such as a proposed water park in Elk Grove as part of its aquatic center. Four former Hawaiian Falls parks are now operated with new owners and park names.

Busch sold the chain in 2015, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. Money troubles continued – the next year, the city of White Settlement, Texas, severed ties with Hawaiian Falls Waterparks, which was allegedly late on rent payments and owed the city more than $900,000, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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