|By Mike Pramik, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 27, 2004 - Central Ohio could have its first indoor water park by Labor Day if plans by a local hotel ownership group take shape as expected.
Fort Rapids Indoor Water Resort would cover 9 acres on the grounds of the Holiday Inn Columbus East, located south of I-70 at Hamilton Road. With 40,300 square feet for water rides, the $32 million, Wild West-themed park would be bigger than Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky, the first major indoor water park in the state.
A company called Platinum Lodging has been formed to renovate the Holiday Inn, build the water park and build an additional two-story hotel with 59 rooms. The company includes four owners of Platinum Ridge Properties, which owns eight hotels, and the owners of Crane Plastics and Able Roofing.
Matt Studer, one of the hotel-company owners, said a projected 75 percent of Fort Rapids customers will come from outside Columbus, but the park will be a draw for area residents.
"Virtually every family I know with kids has been up (to Sandusky) a number of times,'' he said. "Everybody loves it, but everybody complains about the drive.''
Studer said Columbus has approved zoning changes for the project and the park developers are awaiting action on applications for tax-increment financing and abatements.
City officials did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.
"We think Columbus is a great market for this,'' Studer said.
Studer said Fort Rapids, as planned, will offer a "lazy river,'' toddler pool and a 45-foot centerpiece play structure with "about 100 squirt features.'' The park will have eight slides, four of which will allow customers to race one another.
One of the slides, Studer said, will be unique to Ohio water parks: an innertube slide that will propel riders into "The Tornado,'' a large bowl in which they'll spin around before plunging into a pool.
"This industry is pretty new, and there are new rides coming out constantly,'' he said.
Indoor water-park consultant Jeff Coy, who conducted a feasibility study for Platinum Lodging, said he thinks Columbus is a good location for Fort Rapids and that other parks could follow.
"There are 18 of these things in Wisconsin Dells (Wis.), and they haven't reached the saturation point,'' he said. "The one being built in Columbus should draw from the entire state and parts of Indiana and Kentucky.''
Studer said Platinum Ridge Properties operates seven other hotels, including the Holiday Inn & Suites near Port Columbus and the Baymont Inn at Polaris. But this will be the group's first water park.
Coy said that shouldn't be a barrier.
"They already know how to build and operate a hotel; this is simply a migration to becoming more of a resort hotel,'' Coy said.
The Holiday Inn this summer hired Andre G. Brouillard as general manager. Studer said Brouillard worked as aquatic director of Disney's Wilderness Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
Indoor water parks have enjoyed great success in recent years. Coy said the number of hotels with indoor water parks is growing between 23 percent and 29 percent annually, compared with the overall hotel industry, which is expected to increase 1.2 percent in 2004.
Platinum Lodging has hired one of the top water-park construction companies to build Fort Rapids. Wisconsin-based Water Technology Inc. built outdoor water parks at Cedar Point and Paramount's Kings Island. It also helped construct Castaway Bay, Cedar Point's 38,000-square-foot indoor water park, which opened Nov. 5.
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