Richland sending group to explore Texas water parks

dhinshaw@thestate.comJune 25, 2014 

Celebration of Water Festival

FILE PHOTO: Richland County explores opening a water park in the county. In Famously Hot Columbia, kids love water play as this photo at the Summer Celebration of Water Festival at Riverfront Park in 2011 shows.

MARY ANN CHASTAIN — The State Newspaper

COLUMBIA A contingent from Richland County Council will travel to Texas on Thursday to weigh the tourism potential of a water park in Northeast Richland.

The four members of the council’s economic development committee, plus three staff members, will visit Hawaiian Falls Waterparks locations near Austin and Dallas.

“I like to hear from professionals in the industry,” said Councilman Torrey Rush, who is advocating the proposed $20 million project. “I’m not an expert in water parks, so I’d like to hear from professionals ... and get their perspective and see how they run their operation.”

Joining Rush are council members Damon Jeter, Paul Livingston and Kelvin Washington. Also on the tour are the county’s economic development director, Nelson Lindsay; finance director Daniel Driggers; and capital projects program manager Chad Fosnight.

The group does not have a specific budget, but council clerk Monique McDaniels identified costs of $7,539 for roundtrip airfare and for rooms at Hilton hotels in Austin ($241 a night) and Dallas ($172), which will be paid from the county’s economic development budget.

Rush said the group was not touring S.C. water parks because Richland County is looking for a private company willing to build and run the park on behalf of the county. “The only organization that came to mind that’s at least able to talk us through this operation is this one,” he said.

Council chairman Norman Jackson objected to the group using that budget for the trip. He said participants should use their discretionary funds, an account of $7,000 a year that each council member can use for expenses.

Jackson said all 11 council members were invited on a tour by the company.

McDaniels, the council clerk, said the Texas company is not underwriting any of the cost, however.

Rush has said if the Northeast Richland project goes forward, it would be open for bids, meaning Hawaiian Falls Waterparks would not automatically get the contract to build and operate the park for the county.

The council agreed it wanted to study the tourism potential of a waterpark on 200 acres it owns at Hard Scrabble and Farrow roads, land it purchased for a baseball and soccer complex that was never built.

The council also is pursuing a $16 million multi-sport arena south of Columbia, along Bluff Road.

Both tourism-related projects would be built with money the county receives from a tax on restaurant meals, called the hospitality tax.

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