Drawing a Crowd: Hawaiian Falls, new education center spur development

Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

Hawaiian Falls’ debut this summer of its White Settlement water park and the opening of the state’s Region XI education training center in the city in September are raising more interest among hotels and restaurants in White Settlement. Jim Ryan, the city’s economic development coordinator, says that two development groups are closing in on deals for hotels and that several restaurants are looking at sites at Loop 820 near the water park and along Cherry Lane around the service center. The interest is building on top of $175 million that businesses have invested in White Settlement in the last five years, Ryan said in an interview. “We expect three to five hotels coming into the area; a couple of those may end up on the Fort Worth side west of Loop 820,” Ryan said. “I’ve talked to a half-dozen different restaurants.” Hawaiian Falls opened its newest water park this summer at Loop 820 and Clifford Street. In early August, the company will open a meeting center there and its first Adventure Park, with zip lines, climbing nets, climbing and rappelling walls, multi-level ropes courses, six-story “freefall” and other attractions. The meeting center and Adventure Park will mean the park is open year-around, unlike the water parks. The company is adding an Adventure Park to its water park in Pflugerville in August, taking it year-round as well. Hawaiian Falls employs 300 during the summer and will employ 100 people at the White Settlement park during other months, with that number increasing for private events. Park attendance is typically 200,000 annually at the other seasonal parks and should be double that at the year-round White Settlement park, Dave Busch, Hawaiian Falls CEO, said in an interview. The state’s Region XI service center, which is to open in September in the former Sam’s Club on Cherry Lane, will draw an estimated 58,000 educators per year to training sessions, Ryan said. The city has already drawn three new limited-service hotels and about 200 rooms in the last year in anticipation of the Region XI center, Ryan said. Candlewood Suites opened more than a year ago and Comfort Inn in late June. The third, Scottish Inn, is expected to open later this year. The next two that are in the planning stages should bring 120-140 rooms, Ryan said. He attributed interest in those from developers to Hawaiian Falls, the Region XI center and general expansion on the far west side of Fort Worth. The addition of the Adventure Parks at White Settlement and Pflugerville mark the beginning of a diversification at Irving-based Hawaiian Falls, a $30 million-a-year-in-revenue, seven-park company that started in 2003. Hawaiian Falls eventually wants to install Adventure Parks at its other locations, Busch said. All seven of its parks are in Texas, including ones in Mansfield and Roanoke. To protect itself against weather in one state, it’s looking at a half-dozen sites in several states, including Arizona, Georgia, California and Missouri, Busch said. “I think we’ll have two of them in the pipeline in 45 days,” said Busch, a veteran of the amusement parks industry. Hawaiian Falls typically goes into partnership with small, local governmental entities on the parks. The company designs, builds and operates the parks, and the cities – looking to augment their parks and recreation offerings without having to operate the facilities – finance the construction. For the $14 million White Settlement park, the city borrowed the money to build the park on public property, and Hawaiian Falls is repaying the loan through the city over 20 years. After that, Hawaiian Falls will pay a percentage of revenue to the city. The city also receives sales, hotel taxes and employment. The larger site at White Settlement – 16 acres, compared with the company’s typical 10-12-acre sites – allowed Hawaiian Falls to consider adding the meeting center and Adventure Park, Busch said. The technology for some of the Adventure Park attractions also wasn’t available until recently. The water park also features the largest wave pool, longest lazy river and tallest slide of any Hawaiian Falls park. The park can accommodate 3,000-4,000 visitors at a time, compared with the 2,000-3,000 range at the other parks. Hawaiian Falls will market the park into West Texas, including Lubbock and Abilene, Busch said. The park’s sales staff will go after the social market for birthdays and other gatherings, vacationers, church outings, conferences, business meetings and team-building gatherings. Hawaiian Falls, which views ministry as its mission, often sells its parks out for church group gatherings and has hosted 2,000 baptisms so far this season, Busch said. The parks also often host popular Sunday morning youth services. About 70 percent of the company’s business comes from within 15 miles of its parks, Busch said. For the White Settlement park, he’s predicting that number to be closer to 60 percent. In planning its Aloha Event Center, Hawaiian Falls saw a big hole in the market in far west Tarrant County, Busch said. The White Settlement Chamber of Commerce, for example, has to go outside the city to host its meetings, he said. The new meeting center will be able to host seated dining events for up to 400 guests. Event organizers can book the banquet room at $20 per person, including food. It will be another $20 per person to add a day in the park, subject to any negotiated “efficiencies,” Busch said. Without food, the banquet room will cost $250 for meetings. Busch expects 70 percent of the meeting center’s business to end up combining the event with activities in the park. Beer and wine are not sold in the park but will be available for private events in the banquet center. During the summer, the water and adventure parks will feature a one-price admission. When the water park closes between Labor Day and Memorial Day, the events center and Adventure Park will offer free entry. The Adventure Park will sell one ticket for all attractions, or a la carte pricing. The Aloha Event Center will also include an arcade, party rooms and a restaurant. “We figure if someone walks through that building, we’ve made $5,” Busch said. Some of the other cities that host Hawaiian Falls parks have inquired into getting Adventure Parks added to their water parks, Busch said. How those would be built under the existing public-private partnerships is “to be negotiated,” he said. Some of Hawaiian Falls’ rent payments to the cities “could be diverted” to pay for the adventure parks, he said. With the opening of the White Settlement park, Hawaiian Falls sees most of the potential North Texas market map complete, Busch said. Its other parks include ones in The Colony, Garland and Waco. “We’ve probably got all of the holes plugged,” Busch said. “There might be room for one more in the southeast corridor, Royse City, Terrell, Forney. But other than that, we think that’s pretty well deployed. You’re no further than 20 minutes from any of the other parks, except in that corridor.”