|By David Falchek, The Citizens' Voice,
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 17, 2012--A resort developer has its eyes on the Poconos, planning what could be the biggest project in the region's history -- a combination indoor water park, convention center and hotel.
The Wisconsin-based Kalahari Resorts is eying the site of the historic Inn at Pocono Manor for the project.
The company operates similar facilities in Sandusky, Ohio, and Wisconsin Dells, Wis., both major resort destinations. The proposal for Tobyhanna Township is massive. At a meeting with municipal officials in July, Kalahari officials said the project could include a 300,000-square-foot water park, a convention center and could employ as many as 1,500 employees.
The project is in its early stages. The company has not submitted specific plans to local officials or acquired any property or permits. Officials at Kalahari have declined to comment beyond a prepared statement about their excitement over the project. But the wheels are in motion.
On Tuesday, Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corp. will host a meeting at the request of local taxing bodies to discuss Tax Incremental Financing, a program that allocates a portion of property tax payments for a new development to defray the costs of additional infrastructure.
"We are doing this in anticipation of a pending proposal for Kalahari," said Chuck Leonard, executive director of the economic development group.
Leonard characterized the project as being in the early approval stages. He stopped short of declaring it the largest investment in the resort region's history, but given the massive scale of the project, it certainly is close.
Given the specs of the project, Dennis L. Speigel, president of Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services, Inc., said the total price tag would easily exceed $100 million.
Kalahari and its peers market their resorts as self-contained indoor venues for meetings, special events and holiday periods, Speigel said.
"You will typically find places like Kalahari and Great Wolf in family resort areas that capitalize on summer and winter season," he said. Great Wolf Lodge, which has a park in the Poconos, is also in Kalahari's two other markets. "Like McDonald's and Wendy's," he said. "These things often end up in the same neighborhood."
The project follows years of research by Kalahari and a proposal for Virginia several years ago that was nixed when the recession hit. But things have turned around for theme parks and new indoor water parks.
Water parks are one of the few new theme park amusement sectors that are seeing new development. Post-recession, many theme parks have begun or announced large expansions. But the creation of new theme parks remains very rare, save for than indoor water parks, Speigel said.
This would be the third indoor water park in the Poconos, joining Great Wolf Lodge in Scotrun and Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony.
Leonard said people wonder if the market, especially for water parks, may be saturated. But he said Kalahari has a specialized niche, offering conventions and meeting facilities for businesspeople in a resort that is welcoming for attendees' families and children. Considering the potential market for the Poconos within a 120-mile drive, the region is just scratching the surface of its potential draw, Leonard said.
"Kalahari is a little different from what we have now," Leonard said. "Great Wolf Lodge was a nice addition to our attraction base -- one that didn't just add rooms. This is happening because of our location: we are viewed as being in a sweet spot."
(c)2012 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
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