The Nacogdoches City Council on Aug. 5 is expected to consider contributing more than $180,000 in public money to finalize a contract with Splash Kingdom.
“We are that much away from our goal,” City Manager Jim Jeffers said. “What we are recommending is that since we are so close and so that Johnny Blevins can complete construction of the park by next summer, we continue fundraising efforts. If the committee is not successful in raising the $180,000, the city would ultimately be responsible for paying that amount.”
More than five years ago, a committee announced plans to raise more than $5 million to build an aquatic center on North University Drive. But that project evolved, and it eventually became a public-private partnership with Blevins, the owner of Splash Kingdom.
“So $2 million in cash is going to the project from private donations,” Jeffers said. “Those are not tax dollars. The city will, since some of the pledges will be paid over a three-year timeline, finance some of the project. But those monies will be paid back as pledges are paid.”
If the city does contribute $180,000, that money would come equally from the general, utility and sanitation funds.
“But the city would be spending $180,000 to leverage a $6 million investment,” Jeffers said. “Since this is an economicdevelopment project, the $180,000 would be split between those funds. Mr. Blevins’ total investment in the project is $4 million.”
In January, Blevins told The Daily Sentinel it was city officials’ persistence and enthusiasm for the project that led to him committing to building the company’s third water park in Texas. On the proposed seven-acre site, Splash Kingdom in Nacogdoches is expected to feature beach volleyball, spray ground, children’s pool, pavilion, activity pool, picnic areas, rental cabanas, splash pool, slides, lazy river, slide tower, adult hot tub, snack bar and other features. It would be open from May to September, from 11 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., each day.
“We have been talking about this project in one way or another for at least five years, when it was going to be cityowned and operated,” Mayor Roger Van Horn said. “Later, Mr. Blevins became interested and we began to look at it differently, because we had to. Then it became no different than us considering other job opportunities, potential employers, manufacturers that have called and asked us about coming to town. It is like any other economic-development tool.”
Blevins owns Splash Kingdom parks in Canton, Hudson
A sign shows fundraising levels on Tuesday at the proposed site of a Splash Kingdom water park on North University Drive in Nacogdoches. Below: Johnny Blevins, president of Kingdom Perspectives and Splash Kingdom, talks to the Nacogdoches Rotary Club in January about plans for the water park on North University Drive.
“This project will generate additional revenues by creating new jobs, and additional spending and investments, not to mention the many visitors who will also enjoy our rich history and welcoming spirit.
We are happy to be able to provide a safe and fun place for all of our (residents) to enjoy.”
“He is a businessman, a professional, and he knows what he’s doing,” Van Horn said. “Our initial agreement with Mr. Blevins was to raise $2.3 million, plus (offer) the land. And he was going to invest the rest. We anticipated it would be entirely public funds. That was our intent.”
Nacogdoches has been without a city-owned water feature since 2010, when Maroney Pool was demolished and filled in after city council members decided to stop funding the aging facility. On North University Drive, the proposed site for Splash Kingdom is owned by the city.
“I’m passionate about this and believe it is good for our city,” Van Horn said. “The project has been done with honesty and transparency. We didn’t lure people. It was not misinformation. We need to close the deal on this and break ground.”
Blevins has told the newspaper he chose the North University site over prospective land on Loop 224, calling the property “great” with “great traffic patterns there and great surroundings.” At seven acres, Splash Kingdom would be about three acres smaller than the company’s other parks. The site is valued at $703,000.
According to Texas Department of Transportation figures, in 2012 more than 1,800 vehicles traveled North University daily.
City Planner Larissa Philpot has said the initial site plan for the development offers enough parking for customers. The park will include about 200 parking spaces and 800 visitors a day.
“We have talked about it for five years,” Van Horn said. “Not one person has called me and said, ‘I have some problems with this. Can I talk to you?’ Not one. We have been accused of hiding things and that simply is not accurate. People sometimes act like it is a negative. To think that private individuals in our city came up only $180,000 short of $2.3 million tells me they have enough confidence in that project to give freely. And that is remarkable.”
Documents provided by the city show more than 66 donors, including two anonymously for $1.3 million, have contributed more than $2.24 million to the project.
A 35-page report by Impact DataSource shows Splash Kingdom in Nacogdoches will generate $983,000 in taxable sales during its first year and $1.3 million within 10 years. It is expected to create 130 jobs, or an estimated 39 equivalent full-time positions, with more than $956,000 in salaries in the first year.
“Based upon the $5.5 million investment, $983,000 in annual taxable sales the first year with an anticipated $1.3 million within 10 years, I am excited to see the impact on the economy,” said Nancy Windham, president of the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation. “This project will generate additional revenues by creating new jobs, and additional spending and investments, not to mention the many visitors who will also enjoy our rich history and welcoming spirit. We are happy to be able to provide a safe and fun place for all of our (residents) to enjoy.”
Impact DataSource projects that sales-tax revenue for two taxing entities — the city of Nacogdoches and Nacogdoches County Hospital District — will be $428,965 over the first 10 years. Property-tax revenue during the same period is expected to be $1.5 million. No hotel occupancy-tax revenue is expected to be generated, and no city tax abatement will be granted.
The total economic impact during construction is estimated to be $845,000.
“There is a risk in any industry in which we invest that it may not be successful,” Van Horn said. “I don’t care what the business may be. It’s never a guarantee. But there’s no reason to think Splash Kingdom won’t be successful here.”
Blevins has said Nacogdoches residents visit Splash Kingdom in other cities, and that people generally drive about two hours to get to the parks. Here, the park is expected to draw 40,000 people annually from outside Nacogdoches, according to the economicimpact report. That number is projected to increase each year by 5 percent. Admission to the Nacogdoches park would cost $16.95. For people who live inside the city limits, they could purchase tickets at City Hall for $12.95. Annual passes would also be available, and the park would offer private rentals to organizations, businesses and churches.
On Aug. 5, residents are encouraged to attend the Nacogdoches City Council meeting so they may offer their opinions on the Splash Kingdom contract.
“We will have a full open meeting,” Van Horn said. “We are not going to debate the public but we will listen to their ideas and thoughts and look at the contract before the city council votes. Open discussion in an open meeting is not required by law, but I always encourage it. There’s been no intent to be secretive or try to fool people. Our city council has always been open.”
During the meeting, Windham is expected to present Impact DataSource’s report.
“We could get a $6 million project that costs the city $180,000 and a piece of land,” Van Horn said. “That is a bargain by anybody’s definition.”
The Nacogdoches City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., at 202 E. Pilar St.