Water park deal seeks state approval

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 9, 2016

City: Great Wolf to apply for state tourism tax program

By Tyler H. Jones



LaGRANGE — New developments in a deal that could bring a major indoor water park to Troup County are expected sometime in February, city officials say.

Great Wolf Resorts, a Wisconsin-based company with 14 locations, may build the park and adjacent hotel and conference center here if the project is approved for participation in the Georgia Tourism Development Act Program, according to Tom Hall, city manager.

Hall said Great Wolf is preparing its application for the program and he expects it to be submitted to state officials by the end of the month. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Gov. Nathan Deal must approve the resort’s application.

Great Wolfe submitted a pre-application for the program in October and was invited in November to submit a formal application, according to Cherie Bennett, economic development program manager with the Department of Community Affairs.

The Georgia Tourism Development Act Program is a state sales and use tax incentive for tourism development projects, according to Department of Community Affairs literature. It aims to create or expand tourist attractions within the state and lower unemployment by preserving and creating jobs through sales and use tax refunds offered by state and local governments.

Three other tourist destinations in Georgia have been approved to participate in the Georgia Tourism Development Act Program.

The city of LaGrange, the LaGrange Development Authority, Troup County Commission and Board of Education all signed agreements last fall constituting the local governments’ offer to Great Wolf.

The LaGrange Development Authority met in October and approved a $170 million bond issue for the resort and hotel. That bond is backed by Great Wolf’s credit and does not have public liability.

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 would have a 50-year operational agreement to manage the conference center.

The deal does not include any tax concessions that would affect school board revenues.

If everything goes according to the city’s plan, the project could be up and running by Thanksgiving of 2017, Hall told the Daily News in October.

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

Great Wolf Resorts’ target audience 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.

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