Thursday, July 07, 2005By Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If Kennywood Park follows through on plans to add an indoor water park resort to its amusement park complex, it would join an exploding entertainment trend that started about 16 years ago in Wisconsin.
The idea is simple: Build an enclosed water park with the usual water slides, sprays, swimming pools, hot tubs and other wet activities around a theme like Africa or a tropical island and attach it directly to a hotel or two.
The theme usually carries through to hotels, restaurants, arcades and other child-oriented activities at the resort.
The complexes are ideal in cold-weather cities, where they can be used year-round and don't require overnight guests to go outdoors at all. In the summer, their use isn't tied to the vagaries of Mother Nature.
They also can accommodate guests who just visit for the day.
The concept originated in the Wisconsin Dells resort area of Wisconsin in 1989 and the state now boasts 24 such resorts, many of them in the Dells, according to World Waterpark Magazine, a publication of the World Waterpark Association in Overland Park, Kan.
Through 2003, there were 42 indoor water parks in the United States, none farther south than Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. But last year, another 76 were under construction across the country, even in such warm-weather areas as Nevada.
The closest one to Pittsburgh, Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort in Erie, was the first to open in the state, in February 2003, and has been a huge success. Another is under construction in the Pocono Mountains resort area.
Splash Lagoon opened as a $17 million complex at the Peach Street exit of Interstate 90, within about 100 miles of Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh. Scott Enterprises, a family operation that owns a series of hotels and restaurants in Erie, built the 77,000-square-foot park between two existing hotels and provided direct access from both.
It uses a tropical island theme and also has an arcade with 150 video games and a laser tag facility.
The project has been so successful that the complex recently completed a $5.5 million expansion that includes a family-size whirlpool, a 150-seat party room and a huge Boston's Gourmet Pizza and Sports Bar, the first U.S. site for the popular Canadian eatery. The company already is contemplating another expansion, said President Nick Scott.
Hotel rooms range from $239 for a standard double to $409 for a two-bedroom suite, all of which includes access to the water park. All-day passes are $24.95 a person.
The complex has had a major impact on the Erie area, especially during winter months, said John Oliver, president of the Erie Area Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"It had an immediate impact on the economy of this region," Oliver said. "In particular, it draws people to the area in the times when we didn't used to draw well -- the winter months. It's not unusual for their properties to be sold out in November, December and January now when they used to be empty.
"The park itself is first class. It's done right."
Scott said his company had an ideal situation since it already had hotels and property in a good location and it could build the water park between existing hotels. He said it would have taken a huge investment to acquire land and build hotels to serve the water park.
Scott said he's cautious about the huge growth in water park resorts because interest rates have increased since his park opened.
"It's like a gold rush. We were able to get in relatively early," he said.
"I think there's been a rush to do this because it looks like a panacea, but I think it's not that easy."
Gina Kellogg, director of communications for the World Waterpark Association, said the resorts usually are associated with hotels. Only a few, such as Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, have been built by amusement parks, but she said she would expect that to increase in the future.
"An indoor park expands the season for these parks," she said. "Amusement parks usually have a 90-day operating period during the summer when they can attract workers and kids aren't in school.
"But these indoor resorts are family getaways in the cold months, especially on weekends when staff would be available."