Category Archives: Development

Making a Splash in a Tough Economy – Ski Area Waterparks Add to Family Fun and Revenues

Soaring Eagle1I stood inside the clear tube, my heart pounding in my chest.  A speaker above my head counted down. “Three. Two. One. Drop.” The floor swung out from beneath me, dropping me into the near-vertical tube of the 60-foot high La Chute waterslide, a harrowing inverted-loop ride that pulls sliders at up to 50 feet per second. It’s the only indoor one like it in the world. La Chute is part of Jay Peak’s Pump House indoor waterpark in Northern Vermont. This winter Jay opened the 50,000-square-foot indoor water park, along with the slopeside and expansive 176-room Hotel Jay.

The Pump House is an impressive complex. Costing more than $20 million to build, the park is a veritable oasis, with a variety of offerings that range from slow to scary. A whitewater river circulates the park’s periphery, with vacationers bobbing in tubes as a convoluted knot of waterslides looms overhead. Winding moderate slides like The Double Barrel run parallel to the thrilling La Chute, a speed slide that looks no more at home in an indoor setting than a roller coaster.

A cluster of hot tubs resides in the park’s center, flanked by cabanas for rent. An arcade and snack station sit poolside, while a mezzanine bar serves up tropical drinks to onlookers watching surfers on the stationary Flowrider surf wave, or the Jumbotron that hangs from the ceiling of the glass structure. The Pump House instills the feeling of being in the warm South, outdoors and in the sun. During the summer, when the roof retracts, that impression of warm rays becomes a reality.

Despite its out-of-the-way location in rural Vermont, Jay has thrived as a ski area due in large part to its impressive terrain and deep snow. An average of more than 350 inches falls here each year. But as Marketing Director Steve Wright explains, Jay struck out in 2009 to strengthen its approach to the family market and also amplify its revenue stream during the summer months. Hence the development of the water park.

Jay is not the only “core skier” mountain to bridge the gap from freeskiing epicenter to family funhouse. In 2008 Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho, opened the Silver Rapids Indoor Waterpark, a 42,000-square-foot indoor oasis of tube slides, a lazy river, their own Flowrider surf wave, and everything in between. According to John Williams, Silver’s director of marketing, the addition of the waterpark was a critical element in differentiating his resort from others.

“We have fairly steep terrain at Silver. [The waterpark] was a good way to become more family oriented,” he says, adding that the addition of the park “established [Silver Mountain Resort] as a destination resort, not just a day ski area.”DSC07981

The waterpark did more than tap Silver Mountain’s skier market, which was limited to around 15 percent of skiers and snowboarders per capita. By offering a non-skiing option, nonskiing family members and even non-skiing families had a wet and wild option for their vacation. Similar to the situation at Jay, the indoor park provides customers security from rain and poor conditions during their holiday, making family vacations more “weatherproof.” And the new option has led to increased revenue on and off the slopes.

“Since the addition of the waterpark, we’ve nearly tripled our lodging bookings,” says Williams.

Silver Mountain’s waterpark attracts 90,000 visitors annually. All guests staying at the resort’s Morning Star Lodge have access to Silver Rapids, and season pass holders get four uses per year at no additional charge. What’s more, Williams says more bookings translate to increased ticket sales, which have also spiked. By bundling a season pass and waterpark pass, the resort has increased season pass sales by 60 percent in the last three years. This is good news for investors, because the park did not come cheap. It cost around $20 million to build. That figure, according to Williams, is dwarfed by the positive impact of the park on Silver Mountain’s revenue stream. Despite the investment, Williams reports that the resort flipped to a positive cashflow on the park within three years.

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Design-Bid-Build or Design-Build?

Communities responsible for the creation of a new swimming pool and natatorium are often faced with choosing between a conventional AIA protocol of design programming, schematic design, design development and construction documents, bidding and construction administration as compared to negotiating with a sole source package pool installer (design-build).  One must be knowledgably about different manufacturers and their products that are somewhat different than each other as well as performance records in the field.

 The development protocol that will be chosen will produce different results at different costs, both in first cost and in life cycle costs.

 Frequently, life cycle costs are not taken into account during the construction phase because they will be met with other budgets. If these costs are examined, often they reveal a significant cash flow line item for the owner’s budget.

 Some General Observations:

 1.      Competition among companies has been the basis for obtaining quality construction at the lowest reasonable price for the owner. To achieve this goal, experienced owners have retained professional architects and engineers to serve as the owners advocate to create a professional set of bid documents based upon experience, knowledge and technical skills.

 2.      Design firms will develop a plan based upon years of history in the industry which benefits from the experience from hundreds of other similar facilities.

 3.      The advantage of the contract bid documents is that it invites qualified swimming pool contractors and dealer installers to compete head to head so that the owner is given the benefit of seeing what a number of options exist and everyone is agreeing that their price is for the same basic project.

 4.      Competition is the foundation of the free market system in America. Yet, most entities whether business, athletes, research scientist and even universities prefer to dodge competition on occasions. People that build swimming pools or no different. When any builder can avoid competitive bidding and negotiate instead with a buyer that does not have in depth knowledge of the seller’s product or what is available in the marketplace, the builder has an advantage.

 5.      The most important benefit of utilizing a design firm is their responsibility to the owner in creating the best facility to meet the owners requirements:

            a)      Functionality to accommodate current activities, future activities, potential activities and feature activities.

            b)      A combination of structural systems and mechanical systems that will minimize:

                     1.      Labor costs for operation and custodial tasks

                     2.      Replacement cost and frequency of replacements

                     3.      Flexibility of design that will accommodate changes in activities, rule and regulations and mechanical systems.

 6.      The goal of any engineer is to create a pool in natatorium which can be efficiently operated at a reasonable cost for the life of the complex.


In summary, no matter what direction the owner decides to go, knowledgeable planning is the most important phase of the entire process.


Will the Olympics Come Back to the US?

2024 is eleven years away but that hasn’t deterred the US Olympic Committee (USOC) from thinking about the future.  After a two repeated failed bid attempts (New York City in 2012 and Chicago 2016), the USOC recently sent letters to 35 mayors, inviting them to consider bidding for the 2024 Olympics.

“Our objective in this process is to identify a partner city that can work with us to present a compelling bid to the IOC and that has the right alignment of political, business and community leadership,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in the letter.

While this does not guarantee the USOC will officially bid for the 2024 games, this is their first step testing the waters and interest level.  The feedback and interest level of each city’s response will help determine if the US could potentially host its fifth Summer Olympics (previous US host cities include: 1904 – St. Louis, MO, 1932 – Los Angeles, CA, 1984 – Los Angeles, CA, & 1996 – Atlanta, GA).

The International Olympic Committee will vote on the 2024 Games sometime in 2017, giving the USOC four years to prepare – and they’ll need it. The US is not alone in their expressed interest in winning the 2024 games, Paris; Rome; Doha, Dubai; and Durban, South Africa have all thrown their hats in the ring.  For more information on the USOC’s letter, please read more here.

CannonDesign – Cost Trends

As most of us know in the recreation design industry, CannonDesign is a multidisciplinary international design firm.  Cannon’s December newsletter focuses on economic trends impacting design and construction.  It reviews unemployment rates, Non-residential Construction, GDP, futures, and construction cost values.  For those interested in a crystal ball look into 2013, I encourage you to take a look.