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LaGrange brokering massive water park deal

By Tyler H. Jones

tjones@civitasmedia.com

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LaGRANGE — City officials announced Tuesday a national water park-resort chain is considering a new location in LaGrange.

Great Wolf Resorts, a Wisconsin-based company with 14 locations across North America, may build an indoor water park with an adjacent 400-room hotel and conference center near Interstate 85’s Whitesville Road exit, according to Tom Hall, city manager.

The proposal relies heavily on tax-relief concessions and is subject to further approval by local and state governments. The conference center would be funded with a $17 million taxpayer-backed bond and the city of LaGrange would own it, Hall said. Great Wolf Resorts would have a 50-year operational agreement to manage the conference center.

None of the tax concessions affect school board revenues.

City Council approved the deal Tuesday, which must now be approved by the Troup County Board of Education, and county commissioners before the city can present its offer to Great Wolf’s board of directors for approval, Hall said.

If approved, the project could be up and running by Thanksgiving of 2017, according Hall.

“Assuming it goes forward, the school board would take action on Thursday, and the county next week,” said LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton at a City Council work session Tuesday. “At that point, that would constitute our offer, which we anticipate (Great Wolf) would accept. There are a number of contingencies in the offer that we have to work through, so it’s not a done deal, but we feel very good about it.”

The development authority met last week and approved a $170 million bond issue for the resort and hotel, Hall said.

“This is a standard incentive the development authority would offer for any project,” he added. “This is on (Great Wolf’s) credit, there is no recourse to the development authority or the city, or any other public entity.”

The city, though, is on the hook for the $17 million conference center. Hall said to account for the potential liability, three contingencies would have to be in place if the Great Wolf deal comes through.

First, 8 cents on every dollar would be collected as hotel-motel tax inside the resort — just as with any hotel in Troup County. However, of the hotel-motel tax collected on the property of the Great Wolf resort, 4.5 cents of that 8 cents would go to pay off the $17 million, taxpayer-backed bond.

“Based on a $17 million debt service, it is estimated that over 25 years, there should be $24.6 million in excess of what’s needed to retire the debt, and you will own the asset,” Hall told the City Council.

Additionally, if the state of Georgia signs off on the deal, a special tourism grant would be created and a trust fund established as a backup in case hotel-motel tax revenue doesn’t stack up. The trust fund would be stocked yearly using sales taxes collected inside the resort for a period not to exceed 10 years.

Thirdly, Hall said, the city would own the conference center, and the equity in it; it could be sold at any time — if someone’s willing to buy it.

As part of the deal, the city of LaGrange would be allowed to use the conference center for municipal events six times per year at no cost. That does not include access to the indoor water park. In fact, to use the water park, customers must be guests at the resort hotel — and the rooms aren’t cheap. Hall estimated the average nightly rate would be “north of $300.”

The project may create as many as 400 jobs, he noted, but it remains to be seen how many are full-time employment, or if those jobs provide benefits like health insurance or paid vacation.

Calls and emails by the Daily News to Great Wolf Resorts’ media relations were not returned by press time today.

Great Wolf Resorts’ target audiences is middle and upper-middle class families of four, according to the company’s lawyer, Thomas Harrold of the Atlanta law firm Miller and Martin.

Hall said the resort could attract as many as 500,000 people to LaGrange each year, and Harrold said the average nightly resort population is around 2,000 at Great Wolf’s 14 other locations.

There is also potential for a major shopping center to be located across from the resort, Hall said.

“Because of the amount of visitors, there is a very nice, commercial village being planned on the balance of the property, kind of like the Ashley Park (in Newnan) that’s being planned here,” he said. “They are in serious negotiations with some outlet people. When you take the whole thing in balance, this is a tremendous project.”

WATERPARK FEATURES

• 400-room, full-service hotel.

• 75,000-square foot indoor water park.

• 75-foot tall water slides.

• 25,000-square-foot conference center.

• Restaurants and spa.

Source: City of LaGrange.

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.