News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Kevin Harter, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 4, 2004 - Water parks are a hot trend for guest-hungry hotels, and developers expect the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin to ride the wave.
The Grand Rios Waterpark Resort, a 225-room hotel and 45,000-square-foot water park, is under construction in Brooklyn Park. It should open later this year.
Two others have been proposed: the Water Park of America, a 450- to 750-room hotel and 90,000-square-foot water park in Bloomington, and The Lodge at St. Croix, a 140-room hotel and 18,000- to 25,000-square-foot water park in Hudson, Wis. Both could open in 2005 if all hurdles are cleared.
Steve Sherf, senior vice president of GVA Marquette Advisors, a Minneapolis-based hotel consultant, said the Twin Cities region is a good market for water parks. He said the Bloomington site is a natural because it would be surrounded by other attractions, including the Mall of America, the Minnesota Zoo and Valleyfair.
"The Twin Cities are surrounded by vast rural areas and get a lot of families from Iowa, North and South Dakota, who come to shop, eat and see a professional sporting event," Sherf said. A water park gives hotels "a leg up" in attracting travelers, especially those with children.
And that's the main reason behind the water park trend. Hotels need to fill rooms, especially on weekends when business travel dries up.
Water parks are a way to draw families. And by building water parks in tandem with convention centers, hotels encourage business travelers to bring along their families and stay an extra day or two.
The Brooklyn Park and Bloomington properties are being developed by the Wirth Co., which is also the developer and owner of Minneapolis' Grand Hotel.
"Our properties are unique in that we are some of the first in urban-suburban markets," said Jeff Bornmann, Wirth's vice president of development. "Other than the Depot in downtown Minneapolis, they are all outstate."
Marriott's Milwaukee Depot in Minneapolis opened in 2001. Of Minnesota's nine outstate hotels with water parks, the first was the Great Serengeti Indoor Water Park in Owatonna.
Developers of the project in Brooklyn Park and other planned centers said they hope to capitalize on the trend toward linking water parks and hotels. And they think they can capture much of the recreational market that now goes to the Wisconsin Dells, which has become a year-round destination since it added water parks.
Since Tommy Bartlett's successful promotion of the Dells beginning in the 1950s, the upper and lower Dells have been a popular summer destination for families who came to take in the area's natural beauty and shows. The area became a winter draw, too, after 18 of the 140 hotels opened water parks.
The oceanic 125,000-square-foot Kalahari Resort bills itself as "America's Largest Indoor Waterpark."
"It started in the Dells and has moved out," Bornmann said. "Their market is Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis."
If built, Bornmann expects Bloomington to keep those Twin Citians at home, while drawing, as the Mall of America does, from everywhere.
Brooklyn Park, he said, is expected to draw from the northern suburbs and northern Minnesota.
Douglas Rohde, owner of The Lodge at Crooked Lake in Siren, Wis., said the Hudson water park also would attract some who now go to the Dells.
"We'll draw from the urban and rural and people who are looking for an attraction closer than the Dells," he said. "Hudson represents a perfect seven-day-a-week market."
Can so many new water parks all be successful?
Morgan Nederhiser, a consultant who has done water park feasibility studies for many hotels, said the key is to have a big enough population base. And he thinks the Twin Cities metro area's roughly 2.6 million population is enough to keep the water slides busy.
To a large extent, the proposed parks also are scattered throughout the metro and should appeal to residents of different suburbs.
However, Nederhiser, president of Marketing and Development Associates of La Crosse, Wis., noted that an area can build too many water parks. Even in the water park mecca of the Dells, some have declared bankruptcy.
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(c) 2004, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. MAR,