|By Deborah Shanahan, Omaha World-Herald,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 3, 2006 - This fall, the Omaha area will have two hotels featuring indoor water parks that the developers say will be two-thirds to three-fourths the size of the water park at Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City, Kan.
Both Omaha-area parks are planned as part of extensive makeovers of aging hotels: the former Regency at 72nd and Grover Streets in Omaha; and the Bellevue Days Inn along Nebraska Highway 370 east of the Kennedy Freeway.
The 72nd and Grover project won Omaha City Council approval this week for $983,000 in tax-increment financing for the $11 million construction and renovation project.
Construction will begin this weekend inside the hotel, and workers should break ground for the water park addition in about a month, said Scott Makinster, a member of the Grover Street Acquisition Group, the new owners. The hotel should be ready for guests in June and the water park ready for families around October or November, he said.
Tom Schmidt, owner of the Bellevue hotel, is aiming for a Labor Day weekend opening of his water park. He said demolition is under way and construction should begin this month. Room renovations have begun, he said.
Both projects are taking advantage of a relatively new concept in the hotel industry: add an entertainment feature to help fill rooms when corporate guests clear out on weekends.
Water park consultants Bill Haralson and Jeff Coy said the number of hotel rooms attached to indoor water parks is expected to grow from 5,400 in 2000 to more than 24,000 this year, a four-fold increase in six years.
The consultants trace the trend to decisions in the mid-1990s by five families to make the Wisconsin Dells a year-round destination by adding indoor water parks. Today, at least 14 hotels in the Dells area have some sort of indoor water park, and the trend has spread to adjacent states and across the northern tier of the United States. The industry will be worth an estimated $4.8 billion by the end of the year, the consultants said.
"Hotels with indoor water parks achieved nearly 21 (percentage) points higher occupancy and $14 higher room rates annually than hotels with ordinary swimming pools," Coy said, referring to a survey of Wisconsin Dells hotels.
One hotel indoor water park will not make a resort destination, he said, but the first such water park in any market will make that hotel the No. 1 choice for leisure travelers.
Neither Schmidt nor Makinster seemed concerned about competition from other Omaha-area projects. Developers of a Council Bluffs Marriott hotel planned a water park but so far have moved forward without one. Announced plans for an Elkhorn convention center also mentioned a water park.
Schmidt said he doesn't think too many hotels will add water parks because of their cost. He plans to spend about $10 million on the park, to remodel the hotel's 129 rooms, and to create a "Main Street" area with five local vendors to sell ice cream, chocolates, coffee, popcorn and other food.
He said his Great Adventure Water Resort will have three slides that exit the building and return, a pirate ship in a play area, an adult area with basketball hoops and a bar, a teen island surrounded by a lazy river and a wave pool.
The 72nd and Grover Streets hotel has not selected a hotel-chain affiliation or a theme for its water park. After renovation it will have 119 standard rooms and 50 two-room suites. A full-service restaurant and cocktail lounge, video arcade and fitness center also are planned.
The newly constructed water park on the southwest corner of the property will feature a 250-foot lazy river, two waterslides for adults, three slides designed for children, an activity pool and spas. Portions of the slides will be mounted to outside walls and visitors will be able to use them in all kinds of weather, Makinster said.
COMPARING WATER PARKS
GREAT WOLF LODGE, Kansas City, Kan.
--40,000 square feet with eight water slides, three pools, two whirlpools, indoor waterfall, lazy river and treehouse water fort. Hotel has 281 suites and a north woods theme.
--Family restaurant, snack bar, pastry and candy cafe, pizza express, spa, video arcade, fitness center, meeting space, gift shop and activity room.
BELLEVUE DAYS INN'S GREAT ADVENTURE
--30,000 square feet with three water slides, play area with a pirate ship, teen island surrounded by a lazy river, adult area with basketball hoops and bar and wave pool. Hotel has 129 remodeled rooms, including 13 suites.
--Restaurant, cocktail lounge and conference facilities. It will add "Main Street" with vendors of ice cream, chocolates, coffee, popcorn and other food.
NOT-YET-NAMED HOTEL AND PARK AT 72ND AND GROVER STREETS
--25,000 square feet with five water slides, lazy river, activity pool and spas. Hotel will have 119 standard rooms and 50 two-room suites.
--Restaurant, cocktail lounge, ballroom, meeting rooms, a video arcade and fitness center.
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