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Fredericksburg, Virginia Considering Signing a Letter of Intent
 with Kalahari Resorts to Anchor a Tourism Complex

By Emily Battle, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 6, 2008 --ERIE COUNTY, Ohio--When Kalahari Resorts opened here in 2005, the indoor waterpark hotel wasn't exactly a new concept for this part of Ohio.

Two smaller indoor waterpark hotels--Great Wolf Lodge and Castaway Bay--already were up and running, and Cedar Point, the 140-year-old giant amusement park, was a long-established attraction.

In Sandusky and in its original location in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., Kalahari has entered an established tourism market with an existing waterpark or amusement park tradition and begun to compete.

In Fredericksburg, it will anchor a tourism complex that is being built from scratch, the details of which still haven't quite come into focus.

That makes it a different challenge for Kalahari President Todd Nelson.

He already thinks he'll need a much larger outdoor waterpark than the 77,000 square feet he's got in Sandusky. Plans in Fredericksburg call for a 170,000-square-foot outdoor park.

As Nelson is figuring out how to enter a market new to his waterpark hotel concept, Fredericksburg leaders are trying to gauge how this new attraction, unlike anything that exists in the area now, will affect roads, police and fire departments, water and sewer system and the rest of what a local government does.

"It's going to have an impact," Vice Mayor Kerry Devine said. "We want it to have a positive impact."

Erie County officials gave Fredericksburg folks lots of assurances this week that Kalahari isn't exaggerating when it says it's going to generate $5.9 million in new taxes for the city annually.

Over the past few days, the city leaders who went to Sandusky were trying to make sure those new revenues don't get eaten up by the costs of providing services to the development.

On Tuesday, they should be able to release the details of a letter of intent between the city and Kalahari, which city staff will be talking to council members individually about on Monday.

That should spell out not only what kinds of tax incentives the city will give Kalahari, but other agreements the two have reached about things like how much the waterpark resort will pay for water.

The council will hold a public hearing on that agreement Jan. 15, and could vote on it Jan. 22.

While city officials worry about the impact on city services, some in Fredericksburg's downtown wonder whether Kalahari will have any impact on them.

Sandusky has a downtown that it's just beginning to try to revitalize, using the principles of the national Main Street program.

A 1920s-era industrial building that once housed a corrugated box producer is being renovated as loft apartments on the downtown shore of Lake Erie.

But the downtown lacks the number of restaurants and shops that Fredericksburg has, and its streets include a lot of shuttered storefronts and run-down properties.

Erie County Commissioner Nancy McKeen, who will soon take the reins of Sandusky's Main Street group, said that while Kalahari has brought lots of new economic activity to the commercial corridor on which it sits, it hasn't really had much impact on the downtown.

However, she thinks that's probably because there's not much to draw people downtown right now.

Walking through Kalahari in Sandusky, it's hard to spot advertisements for any downtown attractions.

In Fredericksburg, officials hope to make the link a little stronger, both by providing a space in the lobby to advertise downtown and other area attractions, and by providing some type of shuttle--whether it's a public bus or some other service--to take people between Celebrate Virginia and downtown.

Those are just a few of the questions left to answer as city and Kalahari officials continue to talk about bringing this facility to a market that's never seen anything like it.

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To see more of The Free Lance-Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://fredericksburg.com/flshome.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

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