“We are interested in a water park,” said Dalton Mayor David Pennington. “We do have land, and the scenario that occurs to us is that we make the land available for a preferred price. But private enterprise builds and runs that park. Is that a possibility?”
Jeff Franklin, the leader of a partnership seeking to build and operate the park, said that is a possibility but he said he wasn’t “strong enough to do this on my own.”
Last week, Franklin had proposed the city build the park on land it owns, then lease it back to him with an option to buy.
“I want to be able to own and operate a park. I brought these gentlemen (in the partnership) on because I’ve never owned and operated a park,” he said. “But yes, I can operate a business that brings in several times the revenue projected from a park.”
Local officials said Franklin’s original proposal won’t work.
“It’s our land. If we put the money up, if our taxpayers take all the risk, why would we sell it?” Pennington asked. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Pennington said it concerns him “when private investors won’t touch something.”
“There are certain things government has to get involved with when they (private investors) don’t. Necessities such as water or a landfill. But a water park isn’t a necessity. That isn’t to say we aren’t interested. But we are much more interested in how we can get private enterprise involved,” he said.
Pennington said the site that was being discussed, Heritage Point Park, looks like an attractive site to him, with much of the infrastructure already in place and relative proximity to I-75.
But Daniel Aylward, one of the people making the proposal, said private investors wouldn’t likely invest in a water park in Dalton.
“In the United States, there are a lot of places you can build a water park without the competition from Six Flags and Dollywood and the attractions in Chattanooga,” he said.
John Davis, chairman of the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said city officials don’t expect to compete with attractions such as Six Flags. He said officials were looking at something smaller in scale, and more affordable than major amusement parks.
Andy Walker, chairman of the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority, asked if city officials were just looking for someone to build the park would the partners be interested.
Aylward said they would.
Franklin had said last week the park could cost $9 million to build, but he presented revised numbers on Monday based on scaling down the project as well as taking into account parking and other infrastructure already in place at Heritage Point. The estimate now is that it would cost around $6 million to build. Numbers presented by Franklin indicate the park could bring in around 220,000 visitors in its first year and generate about $2 million in revenue after all expenses.
Pennington said the next step for local officials is to look at places such as Statesboro and Hall County that have built water parks.
“We want to understand the risks. We want to see how they funded them, how they built them, how they operate them and how successful they have been,” he said. “As I said, we are interested. But this is complicated.”
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