|By Richard Metcalf, Albuquerque Journal,
N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 28, 2006 - ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Surfing in Albuquerque?
Technology is bringing a variation of the coastline craze to the 312-room Park Plaza, which operated for years as the Four Seasons Motor Inn at Carlisle and Interstate 40.
A two-person FlowRider, a water attraction in which the rider uses a board, will be installed in a water park planned at the hotel.
"I just had to do it," said owner Michael Gallegos, a New Mexico native and president of San Diego-based American Property Management Inc.
The FlowRider's 6,000-square-foot building will be next to the indoor water park that Gallegos announced in March. Construction on the project began this month, with completion expected in the fall of 2007.
The water park will be open to the public as well as hotel guests. No pricing information has been released yet.
The FlowRider uses a pump to power a sheet of water over a padded incline, enabling the rider to lie prone, crouch or -- at its most challenging -- stand on a board and ride an unbroken wave. The rider, although fairly stationary, can carve turns and cutbacks over the racing water.
"It's a place where transplanted surfers, or surfer wannabes, can catch a wave," Gallegos said.
The FlowRider is the latest addition to what is approaching a $20 million renovation and expansion of Park Plaza into a destination resort.
"When a water park goes into a market with a hotel component, it totally redefines the market," Gallegos said.
With the closing in 2004 of The Beach, an outdoor water park near Montano and Interstate 25, the metro area was without any recreational water park with slides available to the public.
No competition Gallegos said he wanted to be the first to fill the void.
"We think the barriers to entry are huge," he said. "From a business standpoint, I like our position."
No competing hotel properties in the metro have the space to incorporate a water park. And to build a resort and water park from scratch would cost an estimated $70 million, Gallegos said.
Park Plaza, which until recently operated as the Carlisle Hotel & Conference Center, sits on just over 11 prime, centrally located acres.
Opened in 1971 as the Four Seasons, the hotel has hosted major events and conferences over the years. "When it was built, it was the 'creme de la creme' of New Mexico hotel properties," Gallegos said.
"This hotel has a special place in the hearts of many New Mexicans but it was functionally challenged," he said. "It looked as though time had passed it by."
With plans for the 23,000-square-foot water park escalating with the addition of the FlowRider, the project's cost increased from about $10 million in March to nearly $13 million now.
Part of the original project involved an additional $3 million renovation of the 312-room hotel, but Gallegos said, "The water park took on a life of its own -- it was the coolest, hippest place. Suddenly, the hotel didn't match."
The renovation is now budgeted at $6 million. Work has been under way on the renovation for months while the hotel continues to operate.
The rooms will be redone with new furnishings and amenities such as flat-screen televisions and iPod docking stations.
The hotel will have two restaurants, a lounge, a movie theater, two swimming pools separate from the water park, and 30,000 square feet of convention space.
"There will be a resort feel," Gallegos said.
The alcohol-free water park, which will have a capacity of 650 people, will have two water slides with tubes that go outside the building, then re-enter it. The mezzanine will have an ice cream parlor, pizza parlor and video arcade.
Park Plaza is a junior brand name of the Radisson hotel chain. When the overhaul and expansion is completed, the property will be renamed Radisson Resort & Waterpark.
Originally developed in the late 1980s, the FlowRider really didn't catch on until La Jolla, Calif.-based Wave Loch Inc. partnered with Cohoes, N.Y.-based Aquatic Development Group Inc. three years ago.
Wave Loch had the engineering and patents, while Aquatic Development had the manufacturing capability, said Dillon Moran, business development manager for the Flow Rider at Aquatic. In the past 2 and 1/2(2.5) years, 32 FlowRider facilities have been built in the United States.
The FlowRider pumps 36,000 gallons of water a minute at 30 to 35 miles an hour, depending on where the wave face is measured, Moran said.
The water is recycled and filtered to limit consumption, Gallegos said, adding, "We're not going to have the evaporation issues that you have in an outdoor facility when it's 90 degrees."
In the prone position, it's a lot like wake boarding behind a boat, Moran said. The more advanced standing position on a FlowRider somewhat resembles snowboarding, he said.
As part of the culture of board sports, from surfing to skateboarding, he said, "It's a skill sport, so you're driving your own experience. They're going to have two crowds: local people who are challenging themselves and tourists who are looking for something different."
He also said, "Albuquerque probably doesn't have a surf shop, but I bet there's one coming."
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Copyright (c) 2006, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
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