Richland County’s long dreamed-of water park is closer to reality after County Council gave the go-ahead this week to execute a $20 million contract for its design, construction and operation.
The park, to be situated at Hard Scrabble and Farrow roads near Interstate 77, should open on Memorial Day 2017, said Chad Fosnight, the county’s capital projects program manager. Planned features include a wave pool, lazy river, tube slide complex, children’s activity complex and event pavilion, Fosnight said.
County leaders have envisioned the park as a regional tourist attraction and among the largest water parks in South Carolina.
The $20 million for its design and construction will come from the county’s 2 percent hospitality tax on prepared meals dedicated to funding tourism projects. A quarter of the cost has been set aside from current hospitality tax reserves, and the county will borrow $15 million to be paid back over a maximum of 20 years.
“We feel that the park will pay for itself,” said County Council Chairman Torrey Rush, who represents the district where the park will be located.
Rush noted the economic importance of attractions such as the water park and other tourism and retail opportunities when it comes to attracting people and businesses to the county.
“If we’re attracting world-class people and companies to our state and our county, we’ve got to have the amenities to compete with other areas,” Rush said.
Plans for the park stalled briefly earlier this year when contract negotiations fell through, but the project was readvertised to bidders.
Though the OK has been given, the contract has not officially been executed, so details such as the name of the chosen firm cannot yet be made public, Fosnight said. The contract should be finalized within the next couple weeks, he said.
Councilman Seth Rose was the lone vote against the contract this week. According to Rose, a feasibility study done by the company awarded the contract predicts the park will not be financially self-sustaining for at least 12 years.
That prediction, Rose said, is based on the company’s estimate that 190,000 customers will visit the park annually.
“Based on my examination of the contract and the particulars of the (feasibility) studies, I just don’t think it’s financially prudent,” Rose said.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.