|By April Taylor, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 22, 2004 - YORK, Va. -- It's big.
And if officials at The Great Lakes Companies are correct, their log cabin-like resort that's under construction in Lightfoot will bring a needed boost to local tourism, particularly in the off-season months.
With about seven months to go before the resort's projected early spring debut, the Wisconsin-based company already is thinking about marketing strategies to get a half million people flocking to its indoor water park, restaurant, gift shops and other offerings within the first year.
"We target the 'Mom' network," said Eric Lund, principal and senior vice president of sales and marketing at The Great Lakes Cos. Inc. "Typically moms ages 24 to 54 with a couple of kids."
The proposed Great Wolf Lodge is a four-story, log-sided resort that includes a massive indoor water park, 302 themed guest rooms, a 250-seat family restaurant and bar, and 7,000-square-feet of meeting space.
The indoor water park will include seven water slides, pools, hot tubs and a giant treehouse waterfront. It's only for guests at the lodge where rates will be $259 to $449 a night in peak season, though officials say they run plenty of weekly specials for nearby residents.
Great Wolf Lodge is one of several major tourism-related projects expected to come on line in Hampton Roads in 2005. Among the others: Hampton plans to open its new $106 million center next spring; Riverwalk Landing, a waterfront development of restaurants and shops in Yorktown, debuts sometime next year; and Virginia Beach will open the first phase of its new $202 million convention center in 2005.
If the Williamsburg location takes off like the nearly 2-year old Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, Mich., the area's tourism economy can expect a boost, said Deborah Knudsen, president and chief executive officer of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She credits the facility in Michigan for a rise in tourism revenues there.
"It's helped increase our family market," she said. "It definitely has contributed to tourism revenues being up."
The upscale lodge also has spurred interest in more commercial development, she said.
"It's started a proliferation of water park developments in Northern Michigan," Knudsen said. "Several hotel properties are building indoor water parks, and two other large developments are looking at our area."
And because it's expensive, she added, "we've found people come and spend two nights at The Great Wolf and a third night at another property, so the lodge has also benefited that way."
Local businesses here are already abuzz, some wondering who'll pay for the far-from-cheap nightly rates, many trying to cash in on one of the area's most awaited new tourism offerings for 2005.
Officials at the Great Lakes Cos. say that they've received a flood of calls from local businesses and contractors interested in work.
One of them was from Rick Champ, president of Aqua Pools and Spas LTD on Ironbound Road in Williamsburg. His business sells, builds and services hot tubs, Jacuzzis and in-ground swimming pools.
"They (Great Lakes) bring in their own contractors, so we were unable to get in on the construction of the lodge," Champ said. He added, "But there's still a possibility of selling parts and pool chemicals once they are open."
York County Economic Development Director Jim Noel says local businesses have a right to be hopeful.
"They are going to need assistance with landscape, laundry, pool maintenance they'll be spending money with a lot of local companies," Noel said.
He also predicts the year-round resort will help "reduce the seasonality of the tourism market."
"They are going to be doing a lot of advertising and a lot of promotion for this facility which will be good for the Williamsburg market," he said.
The Wisconsin-based group, which recently filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to become a publicly traded company, has five water park resorts across the nation, in Kansas City, Kan.; Sandusky, Ohio; Traverse City, Mich.; Wisconsin Dells, Wis., and Sheboygan, Wis.
Lodges are under construction in Williamsburg; Niagara Falls, and the Poconos.
Great Wolf Resorts has begun to hire directors for the new Williamsburg facility. Management positions pay between $30,000-$150,000, officials said.
--Construction alone will produce an estimated 300 jobs with a potential payroll of $12 million, said Noel.
--Annual payroll is estimated at $5 million.
--And county officials estimate the facility will bring in up to $1.9 million annually in taxes and revenues.
It may also bring competition to Water Country USA, Champ predicts. "If I were Busch Gardens, I'd be building a hotel pretty close to Water Country right about now," he said.
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