Updated: Tax incentives flow to planned LaGrange water park
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2016
LaGRANGE — The long-awaited plan to bring an indoor water park and conference center to LaGrange has been finalized and is expected to open in 2018, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said Tuesday.
Great Wolf Lodge is slated to be located near exit 13 of Interstate 85 and include a 93,000 square foot water park, conference center and 456 hotel rooms, according to the resort’s website.
“I am extremely pleased that Great Wolf Lodge will open a water park resort in LaGrange,” Thornton said in a statement. “Great Wolf’s investment in our city is very significant. This resort will create hundreds of jobs and attract nearly half a million visitors a year to LaGrange.”
The company says the resort will include a bowling alley, arcade, ropes course and climbing wall, in addition to the water park.
“With thrilling water slides, a giant tipping bucket, wave pool, lazy river and zero-depth entry water play areas for pre-swimmers, every member of your family will have an amazing time,” the company said in a statement.
Great Wolf Lodge signed an agreement with the County Commission, Board of Education, City Council and Development Authority of LaGrange in October 2015 to invest at least $150 million in private equity into building the hotel and water park; the city is financing a $17 million bond to build the conference center.
The Development Authority of LaGrange 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 $170 million bond includes the $150 million Great Wolf has pledged to invest in capital expenses.
The adjoining conference center will be owned and financed by the city of LaGrange using the $17 million taxpayer-backed bond. Under an agreement, the city is slated to lease the conference center to Great Wolf to operate. Great Wolf will pay $10 per year for a period of no more than 50 years to lease conference center from the city. The bond will be repaid through hotel-motel taxes generated at Great Wolf.
The hotel-motel tax will also help finance marketing the resort. Under the agreement, Great Wolf will get 31.25 percent of the hotel-motel tax revenues to market the resort. The resort must be marketed to include “LaGrange,” and city officials get some say in how the city of LaGrange will be presented in marketing.
Property tax abatements will offset costs. For 15 years, Great Wolf will get a break on the 40-acre property’s tax bill. In year one, the company will pay 10 percent of the assessed property taxes, with the bill growing by 5 percent every year until the 15 years has passed.
The deal does not include any tax concessions that would affect school board revenues.
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. Late City Manager Tom Hall last year estimated the average nightly rate would be “north of $300.”
The project may create as many as 400 jobs.
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 a statement last year from the company’s lawyer, Thomas Harrold of the Atlanta law firm Miller and Martin.
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.
A shopping center is also slated to be built across Whitesville Road from the Great Wolf Lodge.