Dalton hears proposal to build water park

Dalton hears proposal to build water park

May 10th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, Ga., stands inside of the City Hall facility.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. - Dalton officials want a water park to attract tourists to the area and are looking for a way to make a proposal work, John Davis, chairman of the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the men interested in building the park.

But other officials in a meeting Tuesday afternoon seemed less sure that the plan they were hearing was workable for Dalton.

"We don't have a right to waste taxpayers' money," Dalton Mayor David Pennington said. "If it is too big a risk of private money, it is too big a risk of taxpayers' money."

Jeff Franklin, with the group putting the proposal together, said it calls for the city to fund the park, which would be built on city-owned Heritage Point Park. The city then would lease it to Franklin to manage it with an option to eventually buy it.

The park would attract 222,000 visitors the first year and bring in net revenue of more than $2 million, with visitors and revenue increasing over five years, according to Franklin.

Franklin met with officials for the third time Tuesday to discuss plans and provide more details about his company, known as Spirit of America. Another contractor Franklin works with attended the meeting, and several others joined the discussion in a conference call.

Projected costs for building the park range from $7 million to $9 million. The initial development likely would cover less than 10 acres but more phases would be built to cover more than 20 acres.

City and county leaders, as well as members of the Dalton Whitfield County Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authority, asked dozens of questions about Franklin's plan.

The biggest concern was how to balance public and private entities that may be involved in the project. If the city built the park it would have to put the contract out to bid, both during the building phase and if it wanted to sell it, city Finance Director Cindy Jackson told the group.

But the city has various options, such as setting up a governing authority to manage the operation with city funds. Officials asked Franklin to get information about other parks built by public entities and how those were operated.

Pennington also wanted to know why a private investor would be unwilling to build the park, with the potential to bring in enough revenue to pay off the park in five years.

The close proximity of Six Flags in Atlanta, Dollywood in East Tennessee and Chattanooga attractions were drawbacks for private investors, the group said. Businesses that wanted to build a water park likely would go to an area with fewer attractions, according to the group.

But Davis said he does not see the park as a competitor to larger theme parks. It would be smaller and less expensive for families, he said.

"We believe it would also improve the quality of life for Dalton residents," Davis said. "It is a good project if we can find a way to put it together."

Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 706-980-5824.