|By Scott Wyman, Sun Sentinel, Fort
Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 16, 2010 --FORT LAUDERDALE The city's aging sports stadiums near the executive airport could be turned into a major water park resort within the next two years.
The park would consist of giant river systems where visitors can ride inner tubes or swim between water slides, wave pools, downhill rapids and beaches. Treehouse-style hotel rooms would surround the resort. While one stadium would be partially torn down, the other would remain available for team sports, and new athletic fields would be built nearby.
City commissioners agreed Tuesday to negotiate a deal with Schlitterbahn Development Group for the use of the Lockhart and Fort Lauderdale stadium property. The developers estimate the project will cost $110 million and draw up to 10,000 visitors a day.
"We are bringing a resort feel, and it will be the equivalent or better than Atlantis in the Bahamas," said Jeff Henry with Schlitterbahn. "It will be the No. 1 destination in Fort Lauderdale other than the beach. It is a phenomenal facility, and there is no other place like it in the United States."
The fate of the stadiums has been up in the air since the Baltimore Orioles moved its spring training operations to Sarasota in December. Schlitterbahn was the only one of four proposals to the city that was acceptable to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has a strong say in the land's use.
The FAA dashed the Orioles' hopes of replacing the stadium and has hampered the search for new suitors for the site since. The agency gave the property along with the land underneath Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to the city in 1947 under condition that it be used for aviation purposes or that fair market rent be paid.
Schlitterbahn has water parks in Kansas and Texas and has been involved in the development of a water park in Dubai and the expansion of Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It has worked with the FAA on its park in Galveston, Texas, and promised Fort Lauderdale that it could reach terms with the agency on rent.
Fort Lauderdale Stadium has been rented temporarily to a professional soccer team while long-term plans are worked out. Traffic Sports, the owner of the Miami FC soccer team, manages the stadium for the next year and uses it as a practice facility.
Schlitterbahn's proposal involves no public tax dollars, and developers estimate the park would have a direct economic impact of $267.4 million a year. The other three proposals the city considered were for a baseball facility, a soccer complex and a multiple sports center.
"This is something I'm extremely excited about," Mayor Jack Seiler said. "This seems to be a first-class operation everywhere they do it. I love the concept and what they're trying to do here."
Under the plans, most of Fort Lauderdale Stadium would be demolished to make way for the water park. The remaining part of the stadium would be transformed into a castle-like tower surrounding by topiaries marking the park's entrance.
A computer-controlled, water-based conveyor system would run throughout the park. There would be artificial wave pools, pool-to-pool chutes and a network of rapids that is described as the "thrill of a rollercoaster with the fun of a water slide." There would be five pools for young children and two pools dedicated to volleyball and basketball.
The proposal comes at the same time the city is exploring the renovation of the International Swimming Hall of Fame complex.
Those plans call for two new Olympic-size swimming pools, an iconic dive tower and state-of-the-art artificial surf machines. Schlitterbahn said the proposals are not in conflict, noting that their wave rides would be more geared toward amateurs than those at the hall of fame.
Developers said the daily cost of admission at its park is $39.95, but discounts and passes are available. They said the 300 hotel rooms would range in price from $150 to $1,000.
Lockhart Stadium would remain intact, even though some of the water rides would run around its edge and underneath the bleachers. The facility would be upgraded to be a tournament-size multi-use field that meets the standards for the National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Developers said they want Lockhart to continue to be used by the Broward School District and envision it being used by the pro soccer team and for concerts.
Schlitterbahn plans to have virtual golf, baseball and softball simulators for visitors as well. Up to four athletic fields could also be built on the eastern edge of the property and could be used by intramural teams.
With Tuesday's decision, Schlitterbahn now must negotiate a contract with the city and FAA before construction could begin. The company said Lockhart Stadium would remain open throughout construction, but Fort Lauderdale Stadium would have to close within a year.
Scott Wyman can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4511.
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