A large crowd turned out on Feb. 25 to hear a report from three consultants on the feasibility of building an aquatic park in Carroll County. Two sites, one at Woodlawn School and the other on Ball Park Drive, were discussed as possible locations for the $3.6 million project.
James Emr, president of Smolen, Emr and Ilkovitch Architects, opened the Carroll County Board of Supervisors meeting by addressing the financing. Emr said a bond at 4 percent interest over 10 years would amount to $437,616 a year, while one at 6 percent would be $479,952. The cost of a 20-year bond would be $261,792 at 4 percent and $309,744 at 6 percent.
According to Emr, revenue is expected to range from $467,906 the first year to $640,328 in the fifth year of operation. However, operating expenses would outweigh the revenue, ranging from $590,791 the first year to $680,632 in the fifth year. That means the county would lose $122,885 the first year but the losses would fall to $40,304 by the fifth year. The increase in operating expenses would result in higher cost years each in areas such as labor, payroll taxes, insurance, utilities, advertising and promotion, and maintenance and repairs, as well as adding new water slides to accommodate increased usage.
Dave Almy of Almy Architects explained the various design features of the aquatic park, which included two large slides, two smaller slides, a shaded wading pool, a current channel, a vortex pool, various floatables, as well as a bathhouse, a snack bar and a pavilion which could be used for parties for family get-togethers.
Following Almy’s presentation, Emr addressed the two possible sites. Although he said there was little difference in the two sites, the Ball Park Drive site “might be easier to work with because we’d be looking at demolishing part of a building at Woodlawn School,” which would add to the price of the project.
Bill Haralson of Smolen Emr and Ilkovitch Architects, who directed the marketing study for the project, agreed with Emr, saying, “There is little difference in one site compared to the other. Ball Park Drive has a slight advantage because of the hotels and some other features.”
Haralson then took the supervisors through his study, beginning with demographics, which he broke down into four categories - population levels and trends, per capita income, ethnic composition and age distribution.
In developing the study, Haralson said the drawing “limits for a water park is probably 50 miles with an average stay of four to five hours.” He added that people who live closer will use the park more often.
Haralson’s figures showed that 789,380 people lived within 50 miles of the proposed park in 2010 and that number is expected to increase to 810,268 in 2017. He then broke the figures down, with the 2017 number showing that 12.9 percent of the population lived 15 to 25 miles from the park, 3.2 percent lived in the 10- to 15-mile range, another 2.3 percent lived five to 10 miles away, and 1 percent lived within five miles.
As one might expect, Haralson said aquatic parks were most frequented by families with younger children. His study showed that children 14 and younger made up 16.6 percent of the population that lived in the 0-5 mile range, 17.7 percent in the 5-10 mile range, 16.2 percent in the 10-15 mile range, 17.2 percent in the 15-25 mile range and 16.8 percent in the 25-50 mile range.
Haralson also addressed race composition. Although 86.4 percent of the people living in a 50-mile range are caucasian, there is a decent Hispanic presence. While just 4.9 percent of the population in the 50-mile range is Hispanic, 7 percent of the population in the 5-10 mile range is Hispanic.
“Hispanics are a good market. They tend to come more in family groups. They come early and stay later,” said Haralson, who projected 45,000 to 50,000 attendance in the park’s first year of operation.
Haralson went on to say that July is usually the peak month of operation and that Saturday, closely followed by Sunday, is the day of the heaviest crowds, usually totaling between 1,000 and 1,200. Later in the meeting, Haralson was asked about the number of operation days. He said between 100 and 120 days would be about average.
Carroll’s proposed park was also compared to three other parks of “similar sale and similar population makeup” – Discovery Island and Otter Creek in Greenville, S.C., and Chesapeake Beach in Chesapeake Beach, Md.
“All three have positive net operating income,” noted Haralson.
As for admission fees, Haralson said his study used $4.99 for both children and adults for residents of Carroll County, $9.99 for children and $10.99 for adults for general admission, and $5.99 for children and $8.99 for adults for groups or promotions. Season passes for an individual were $51.50 for individuals and $129.50 for families. The prices, however, could be changed as the county sees fit.
The supervisors then opened the floor for comments from those in attendance.
Georgette Lasorso of Hillsville spoke first in opposition to the park, saying, “We have Lake Ridge (RV Resort), we have the Wellness Center, we’ve got Galax Parks and Recreation. We’ve got Wildwood Industrial Park sitting out there with no jobs, we’ve got the (Carroll County) industrial park and most of the buildings are vacant. This is a depressed area; we need good jobs, not low-paying jobs.”
Harold Hill also spoke against the park, asking the supervisors “Where’s the money coming from?” He also asked that there be a public debate and questioned if a referendum could be placed on the ballot for the November election so the people of Carroll County could make a decision about the park.
Lisa Delp, a longtime supporter of a water park, suggested the supervisors seek corporate sponsorship for the park in order to lessen the funding by the county. She also suggested grants and “possibly doing away with some of the fluff” as ways to save money.
“I want my grandchildren to live here, my children to live here. I want them to have something to come home for,” she added.
“I’m opposed to the project; it’s self-serving for a small portion of the county,” said Judy Turman. “We’re a sparsely populated county and this is not going to draw people in. We have plenty of water in our creeks and rivers; we have plenty of yards for birthday parties. I feel like our money should be used to entice businesses to come in.”
Clarissa Chappell said she supported the aquatic park.
“I wanted to have a birthday party at a water park and the one in Greensboro was booked up. I called Gatlinburg and it was going to be $299, so we ended up going to Myrtle Beach. I’m all for a water park,” she said, adding that the Homeplace in Dobson, N.C., charges $6 and has just one slide and a rope to swing on.
During supervisors’ time, Sam Dickson, who along with fellow supervisor Josh Hendrick served on the water park committee, questioned if “100 to 110 days is really a valid spread of time” for the number of operational days.
Haralson replied that time frame “is fairly typical.”
Hendrick questioned if a 50-mile projection was a “reasonable distance. I might drive 25 miles, but I’m not going to drive 50.”
Dickson said that he had been to Randolph Park in Dublin, which he estimated at about 38 miles, and had seen “a lot of people from Carroll County.” He also addressed an earlier question about why the county pool was filled in several years ago.
“The old pool wasn’t heated and the kids were turning blue. It was a small pool and we had to take down the diving board, which was its main draw.”
As for the proposed park, he added, “I don’t know if we have a sufficient population, I don’t know if we can afford it. Just pray for us to make the right decision.”
Delp asked if there would be any “trickle-down effect.”
Haralson responded by saying, “There is some of that. Any time you draw people into your town, they need goods and services.”
Michael Howlett can be contacted at 276-728-7311 or on Twitter@MikeEHowlett