Sandy Beach Water Park opened in 2015 with its owner envisioning tens of thousands of people cascading down large water slides and traversing the park’s “lazy river.”
The park did draw about 35,000 visitors that first summer, but that number was about half of what its owner, Jeff Franklin, president of Spirit of America Theme Park and Development, estimated would walk through the gates.
Now, the water park, located inside the Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area, is officially up for sale, with an asking price of $2 million, according to a Coldwell Banker commercial advertisement.
Earlier this year, the property was put under the control of a receiver, someone appointed to administer property involved in a bankruptcy or a lawsuit, and a new management company was appointed to operate the park this past summer.
Now, with the park up for grabs, some Macon-Bibb County commissioners have ideas about what should happen with the park if a suitable new owner isn’t found.
Commissioner Joe Allen opposes selling the park equipment to a new owner for it to be relocated to a different water park. He says the county should explore buying Sandy Beach if the price is right.
Allen served as chairman of a Lake Tobesofkee board during his previous tenure on the Bibb County Commission, and he describes the recreation area as a gold mine. He said it’s his understanding the park fared much better financially this past summer than it did during the first year.
“If they do what needs to be done, we can get it at a good rate,” Allen said. “We don’t need to tear down what’s already been up there.”
The $2.7 million water-park project was largely financed for Franklin’s company by the Small Business Administration, working with the Bank of Perry, which is a division of Persons Banking.
The county does not have a financial stake in the ownership of the park, although Macon-Bibb was set to receive 1 percent to 1.5 percent of gross revenues after the park was open for three years. The county has charged a $3 gate fee for people entering Sandy Beach Water Park.
The county, however, did invest $248,000 through bonds for infrastructure improvements to utilities and roadwork for the project. At the time, at least two commissioners, Scotty Shepherd and Elaine Lucas, questioned the lack of experience of the park’s owner.
The park will still open again in 2018 even if a new owner is not found by then, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.
Lucas said she thought more Macon-Bibb leaders should have investigated when a potential deal by Franklin to bring a water park to Peach County fell through.
“I requested additional information about it and kind of cautioned us to not rush into it because the person who opened it did not have a lot of experience,” she said.
The veteran commissioner said one option could be that the county runs just a small portion of the park if a new owner isn’t found. Macon-Bibb might leave up one or two slides and charge a nominal fee to use them, which would be similar to the setup at Delores A. Brooks Community Center.
There’s too much liability and costs associated with upkeep for the county to ever take control of park as it stands now, Lucas said.
Allen agrees it was a mistake not to work with someone who had previous experience owning a water park. Before consolidation, there was some interest among then Bibb County commissioners about finding a group that already was involved in similar projects, he said.
Allen was not on the County Commission at the time the decision was made to allow Sandy Beach Water Park to be built.
“If we can go ahead now and talk with the people who have it and see the best price... They won’t have to take everything down,” he said. “We won’t lose money this coming up summer. We’d be able to be in a position where it’s running right. Have the right team that’s running it now, maybe.”
Sandy Beach could have some competition coming up this summer with a new, larger-scale water park that’s scheduled to open in Warner Robins. The $15-million-plus Rigby’s Water World is being built next to Rigby’s Entertainment Complex after facing delays.
Allen said Sandy Beach could still attract a good crowd because of its location and by being more affordable to get into than Rigby’s park.