AP - Kalahari Resorts plans to open a $200 million African-themed resort and indoor water park in Fredericksburg next year, creating more than 1,900 jobs, the company and city officials said Friday.
The resort will be built next to the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center at Celebrate Virginia, a 2,400-acre residential and commercial development along Interstate 95, about 55 miles south of the nation's capital.
"We just think the Fredericksburg area is just a wonderful area with the proximity to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore," Todd Nelson, president and owner of Kalahari Resorts, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Along with the about 700 guest rooms, the resort will include 100,000 square feet of conference and event space, the Wisconsin company said in a news release.
Nelson said Kalahari resorts are "completely authentic," with employees traveling to Africa twice a year and importing artwork and other themed pieces.
The 125,000 square-foot water park will feature slides and roller coasters, as well as the FlowRider surfing attraction. It also will also have entertainment areas, including indoor miniature golf, bowling, go-carts and a game room.
"This is really taking our tourism efforts to a completely another level," said Kevin Gullette, Fredericksburg's director of economic development and tourism.
Gullette said the resort will contribute about $122 million a year to the local economy, according to an economic impact assessment, which anticipates it will attract almost 1 million guests per year. Estimates show the city will generate between $5 million and $7 million in new taxes each year.
The creation of jobs will be welcomed by the city, which had a 4.1 percent unemployment rate in September, Gullette said. The surrounding area had about a 2.3 percent unemployment rate for the same period, according Virginia Employment Commission numbers.
"It's primed the pump and really set the city up for the next 10 to 15 years," he said.
Kalahari operates two similar resorts in the Midwest that each draw more than 2 million visitors annually: a 125,000-square-foot park in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., that opened in 2000 and an 80,000-square-foot park in Sandusky, Ohio, which opened in 2005. The company said it plans to expand its Ohio property, nearly doubling the size of the complex.
The planned resort creates some competition for Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg. The 405-room resort features a 79,000 square-foot indoor entertainment area and water park, according to the company's Web site. There also are two major water parks in central and eastern Virginia: Water Country USA near Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell.
Kalahari Resorts is working with Fredericksburg and Boca Raton, Fla.-based Silver Companies, which developed Celebrate Virginia, to finalize details of the transaction.
Thirty-eight acres of Celebrate Virginia is also set aside for the U.S. National Slavery Museum, which has struggled to raise funds for a scheduled 2008 opening.
BY EMILY BATTLE
Fredericksburg officials announced today that the city and the Silver Cos. have landed what is being billed as the largest tourism development in the mid-Atlantic region.
City officials would not release the name of the business yesterday. But on its Web site, the Madison State Journal reported last night that the project is a $200 million waterpark by Kalahari Resorts.
The project will be part of the Celebrate Virginia complex. According to the Wisconsin newspaper, the Kalahari will sit on 49 acres next to the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center.
The project includes a 125,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, 100,000 square feet of conference space, and 700 guest rooms and suites.
The development to be announced is expected to bring more than 1,000 jobs to the city. Kalahari has resorts in the Wisconsin Dells and Sandusky, Ohio.
City Economic Development Director Kevin Gullette said the news will "completely redefine us as a tourism destination."
City Council members met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the terms of an incentive package for this development. Those terms have not yet been made public.
The announcement comes as City Council members continue to consider entering into an agreement to subsidize the Expo Center by $300,000 a year for three years to help it secure large group events. It also comes on the heels of a budget retreat where council members talked about how Central Park's retail properties are no longer a source of growth in city revenues.
Check fredericksburg.com later today for more details on this story.
Emily Battle: 540/374-5413