Developers reveal plans for Warner Robins water parks

chwright@macon.comJuly 25, 2013 

  • Water park proposals comparison

    Steve Rigby, of Warner Robins, talked about opening a water park Thursday after hearing this week of plans Jeff Franklin, of Atlanta, has to open one in Warner Robins. It’s a new kind of project for both men, but they both anticipate a summer 2014 openings.

    JEFF FRANKLIN
    Acreage: 6 (land not yet purchased)
    Expected admission: $12 per day; $50 for season
    Job creation: 150 full time and part time
    Financing: In progress
    Infrastructure: No

    STEVE RIGBY
    Acreage: 25
    Expected admission: Unknown
    Job creation: 80 to 90 positions
    Financing: Yes
    Infrastructure: Yes

ATLANTA -- Warner Robins could get wet and wild next summer, with two developers saying they anticipate 2014 openings for their proposed water parks if everything goes according to their plans.

Both Jeff Franklin, an Atlanta small businessman whose proposal to build a water park was revealed this week, and Steve Rigby, a major Warner Robins developer whose first family attraction opened this year, talked about their projects Thursday.

Franklin’s idea would be smaller and near the interstate, while Rigby’s would be larger and in a central part of town.

The developers

The gentlemen are both tall men who have made livings at entrepreneurship, but that’s where the similarities end.

Franklin has made his living off of start-ups that came from improving what’s already there. From remnant pieces of carpet turned into logo-adorned carpets sold nationwide to waterproofing columns for carpeted porches, he’s a fix-it kind of guy.

“To me, Warner Robins needs a water park to be better,” Franklin said.

He said he decided to open a water park in Georgia last year after doing well in several other businesses. He said he doesn’t care about the profit.

“As you reach your 50s, you really want to do something that makes everything count,” Franklin said. “It’s more a fulfillment.”

He’s looked at about 20 cities and gave a failed presentation in Dalton, but ultimately he settled on Warner Robins after talking to patrons in local restaurants. He said he and his wife would relocate after their third child goes off to college.

Rigby has made a living on large developments. After opening Rigby’s Entertainment Complex off Ga. 96 in May, he’s well-known in Middle Georgia.

Rigby is currently adding a batting cage and go-cart track at the center. He said he decided last year to add a water park when those two additions are finished because patrons have asked for one.

“I did not build a Johnny G’s, because there’s one already,” Rigby said. “I did not build a Monkey Joe’s because there’s already one. The water park would be the same thing.”

The proposals

Both men have talked to the experts. Both men have reviewed the Warner Robins water park feasibility study. And both men have been in talks with city officials about their ideas.

The feasibility study commissioned in 2011 says a water park would be successful in Warner Robins. The premiere location would be near Interstate 75, while other viable options could be near Houston County High School, the Museum of Aviation or the Little League Southeastern Regional Headquarters.

Franklin and Rigby both fit the bill in that sense.

Franklin intends to start small with about 6 acres -- still yet to be purchased -- near Interstate 75, off of Vietnam Veterans Parkway. Rigby’s Entertainment Complex, where Rigby owns 90 more undeveloped acres, sits in the middle of some of the secondary locations.

Rigby said he’s looking at a 25-acre park about the size of Splash in the Boro, a public-private water park in Statesboro.

“Just like Rigby’s, it’s going to be second to none. Just state of the art,” he said.

Franklin’s idea is to begin with something the size of the first phase of Splash in the Boro. Eventually, he wants to expand to a 20-plus acre park with a historic theme.

“I want to pass it to the next generation,” he said. “We’ve got enough in there to keep us busy for a long time.”

Franklin’s plans include a recreational pool, a lazy river, kid play areas, waterslides, a party pavilion, a wave pool and kid spray areas.

“I want something kids-oriented, so moms can stay in their lounge chairs and not worry about their children,” Franklin said.

Rigby’s plans sound much the same, except on a larger scale. He, too, plans to have a wave pool, lazy river and children’s play area. But Rigby also intends to have 11 water slides and other rides.

Potential impact

Both men said they want their park to be part of a destination.

Franklin hopes to spur economic development along Vietnam Veterans Parkway, a relatively undeveloped road paved between the city’s two busiest boulevards.

Warner Robins Councilman Mike Brashear, who along with Councilman Mike Daley has been working on infrastructure logistics behind the scenes, said a water park on the road could push more to build.

“We have a $2 million investment that is already in the road and the utilities that are there,” Brashear said. “And that was the whole purpose of Mayor (Donald) Walker and the former council to start economic development in that area.”

Neither Brashear nor Franklin wanted to reveal the exact parcel Franklin wants to buy or who owns it. According to the Peach County Tax Assessor’s office, land on the road is owned by Shree-Jee Krishna LLC, Tim Dupree, Gunn Properties, Peach County Commissioner Martin Mosely and State Bank & Trust.

Franklin said his idea is that he would cross-market with hotels, restaurants and other entertainment.

“This thing is a people project,” he said.

Rigby said he envisions a hotel as well as a few restaurants. All would be built on land he bought years ago.

Franklin has three partners with water park experience, including a designer of Splash in the Boro. He offered six months ago to collaborate with Rigby.

“I don’t do partners,” Rigby said.

Rigby already has the infrastructure for his land in place, as he needed it for the fun center. But Franklin’s raw land will need some aid to make it viable.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen revealed Franklin’s project this week when the mayor said Brashear and Daley were showing the developer favoritism in helping coordinate utilities and roads to the site. He said he wasn’t against a water park in general.

“He doesn’t even have financing for a water park, and he wants us to do all this stuff for him,” Shaheen said. “Why should we appropriate money and stick our necks out for him, and the guy doesn’t even have financing?”

Franklin said Thursday that’s not what’s happening. He said a Small Business Administration loan, and any loan, requires assurances their financing won’t go to waste. But he hasn’t secured a loan yet, as he said he needs commitments from Warner Robins and Peach County regarding the project.

Roads and utilities are vital to developments. Brashear said the city has helped others, including Rigby, with developments in the past.

The city has intended to build a visitors’ center on Vietnam Veterans Parkway for a few years and already has talked about putting in utilities, Brashear said. Peach County Commission Chairman Melvin Walker said commissioners are willing to help with roads on any development that could bring in revenue for the county.

Franklin said his water park would create about 150 full time and part time positions in its first summer, and Rigby anticipates 80 or 90 new jobs, though he said he hasn’t calculated his exact need.

So, two men, the same idea, and different plans. Whose will reign supreme?

“We’ll know that in five years,” Rigby said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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