In Thursday’s cold weather, workers were digging out the course of the “lazy river” at Lake Tobesofkee, part of a $2.7 million water park being built at the site.
The tropical-themed Lost Island Water Park at Sandy Beach should open in mid-May, said recently hired General Manager Misty Gamble. She and Jeff Franklin, president of Spirit of America Theme Park and Development LLC, visited the site Thursday and stood on the old tennis courts that will soon be replaced with a children’s splash pool.
Plans also show a wave pool, and Franklin said there will be two or three water slides.
The park should open for weekends in mid-May -- six weeks earlier than previously announced -- and be open daily starting on Memorial Day, May 25, Gamble said. It is scheduled to stay open daily through the summer, until Bibb County schools reopen, and will then be open on weekends for a while, she said.
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There won’t be much lighting for nighttime activities, so the park likely will stick to daytime hours, Gamble said.
And in October, an inflatable dome will go up over the main pool, offering indoor swimming until springtime, Franklin said.
Within a couple weeks, a website should be activated with admission prices, Gamble said.
Franklin said a season pass will be available for $59.95 through April and will include seasonal parking.
Gamble said season passes should pay for themselves in perhaps three visits, indicating that regular admission might be around $20. There will be features and entertainment intended to appeal to all ages, she said.
Some of that will be live entertainment. The park will employ about 60 trained lifeguards, who will be expected to interact with guests by singing, dancing and playing instruments, Gamble said.
“We want a large entertainment production daily,” she said.
Lifeguards will be watching every water feature, though most pools will be shallow, Gamble said. The park will use Ellis & Associates lifeguard safety training, the certification used by about 80 percent of water parks, she said.
There will be auditions for lifeguards in a few weeks at a time and place yet to be announced, Gamble said. A general job fair will follow, and the park also will hire 10 to 15 people to handle admission, plus others for maintenance, retail and probably concessions, she said.
Gamble said she worked at Lake Lanier Islands Resort for 17 years and managed it from 2006 to 2013.
The park at Lake Tobesofkee will be Spirit of America’s first, but Franklin has said it could be a model for two or three more. He formed the company in 2007 with the help of Peter Alexander.
“He was the project manager for the building of Epcot,” Franklin said, referring to Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida. He said he expects Alexander will help design some of the entertainment at Lost Island.
Franklin’s first plan was to build a large water and amusement park in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
“It didn’t happen in Ridgeland,” he said. Bond financing fell through in the nationwide recession, so with the help of Georgia Tourism Product Development Director Bruce Green he checked out about 15 potential sites in Georgia, Franklin said. In 2012 Green urged him to look at Middle Georgia.
“It’s prime for a water park,” Franklin said Green told him.
Franklin talked with Peach County officials for about two years about building a water park on about 6 acres between Russell Parkway and Lakeview Road. After a tentative agreement, Peach commissioners balked Aug. 28 when asked to change plans for nearby road improvements. Two weeks later they offered $300,000 worth of roadwork once the water park was 25 percent complete. But by then, Franklin had changed his mind.
Franklin called the Peach County snag “a blessing in disguise,” because the next day Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert and Parks & Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty called him to enthusiastically push the 8-acre Tobesofkee site. The basic design for the Peach County site was simply moved to Macon-Bibb, speeding construction plans.
The park site is several hundred feet from the lake shore. A water park was envisioned for the same spot in a 2008 Tobesofkee master plan, which Dougherty hoped to fund with special purpose local option sales tax money. But a public water park wasn’t included on the SPLOST project list.
No full economic projections have been done, but tentatively Spirit of America expects the park to generate 100,000 visitors per year.
Franklin’s Marietta-based company received approval from Macon-Bibb County commissioners in October to build the water park at government-owned Lake Tobesofkee, and Spirit of America signed a 20-year lease on the site. The company will pay local government just $1 per year for the first three years, but in years four through six that would rise to 1 percent of the water park’s gross revenue, and 1.5 percent thereafter, according to the agreement.
The resolution authorizes use of bond money from a 2013 issue by the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority to pay for $248,000 in public improvements, such as utility service and road upgrades.
Franklin said the park construction is largely financed by the Small Business Administration, working with the Bank of Perry.
A state incentive essentially will waive sales tax on equipment purchases above $1 million, and state tourism officials will advertise the park at all Georgia visitor centers, he said.