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Virginia Getting New Kalahari Resort

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Kalahari Resorts' new waterpark complex is expected to contribute $122.7 million annually to the Fredericksburg regional economy, company and city officials said at a ceremony yesterday.

 

When complete, the $200 million resort will be one of the region's largest private employers. It will also nearly double the number of hotel rooms in the city of Fredericksburg.

 

Kalahari President and owner Todd Nelson was in Fredericksburg yesterday to unveil plans for his company's third water-park resort and conference center. The complex is expected to open by December 2009 next to the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center in Celebrate Virginia South.

 

The first phase of the project will include a 125,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 170,000-square-foot outdoor water park, a 100,000-square-foot conference center and about 710 guest rooms. The resort will also have a spa, bowling alley, mini-golf course, retail stores and restaurants.

 

By comparison, the Wal-Mart store in Central Park, including the garden center, is 225,600 square feet. The outdoor water park will be bigger than three football fields.

 

Nelson said yesterday that the first phase of the project will

 

create at least 800 jobs. Kalahari plans to add 200 hotel rooms and as much as 100,000 square feet to the water park during the second phase of construction. The complex could ultimately support about 1,900 jobs, according to the company.

 

That would make Kalahari Resorts one of the region's largest private employers. GEICO, Mary Washington Hospital/Medicorp, Wal-Mart and Food Lion were the only private employers generating 1,000 or more jobs in the region as of the end of 2006, according to data from the Virginia Employment Commission.

 

Nelson said most of the jobs will be service-related and will pay in the range of $8-$9 per hour. But he said there will be between 80 and 90 salaried positions that could pay as much as $200,000 per year.

 

Fredericksburg currently has 1,158 hotel rooms, according to city economic development staff. That includes the two new hotels that have opened in Celebrate Virginia; two more are on the way. The biggest hotel in the city--the Holiday Inn Select--has 193 rooms.

 

The four other hotels in Celebrate Virginia should benefit from the resort, said Jud Honaker, president of commercial development for the Silver Cos. He noted that people could stay at one of the four hotels and get a day-pass to the Kalahari resort.

 

Honaker said he started negotiations with Nelson in July. Nelson said they looked at the Williamsburg and Richmond areas but decided they preferred the Fredericksburg location.

 

Fredericksburg Mayor Tom Tomzak said the new resort will be "the linchpin of our tourism efforts."

 

Kalahari estimates that more than 1 million guests per year will visit the resort. They think it will generate $5.9 million in new taxes to the city annually.

 

Jim Noel doesn't doubt it. Noel is the economic development director of York County, where Great Wolf Lodge has operated a waterpark hotel since early 2005.

 

With 405 guest suites and a 67,000-square-foot indoor water park, Great Wolf Lodge is significantly smaller than Kalahari's planned resort. Yet Great Wolf has generated millions of dollars for York County since it opened and has provided great marketing exposure for the county.

 

"They've been a wonder-ful addition," Noel said. "They're not just another hotel. They're like a cruise ship on land."

 

Noel's counterpart in Fredericksburg expects Kalahari's new resort to have a similar effect here.

 

"This is one of the most exciting days in the history of our city," said Fredericksburg Economic Development Director Kevin Gullette.

 

I'm really excited because it's going to be located about 10 minutes from my house! Has anyone ever been to the other resorts? I've heard from my relatives in Wisconsin that the one up there is really fun.

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I visited the one in Sandusky with some friends for a day this summer. It was really a fun experience. So fun, in fact, that we're planning on a return visit sometime this winter when the expansion opens.

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