Monday, August 18, 2008

John Nock's Water Park?

In 2002, Fayetteville was all abuzz about the Ozark Adventure Water Park that was going to be built on 24 acres just east of I-540 and south of 6th Street. The developer said cooperation in Fayetteville was a big factor in choosing to locate here and that Mayor Dan Coody and Cowbird President Bill Ramsey were particularly influential. Family Recreation and Development even said it planned to move its corporate headquarters to Arkansas from Nashville.

John Nock, an investment banker with American Municipal Securities Inc, was absolutely glowing. The water park would be a $6.4 million project, including an 18,000-square-foot wave pool, a "kiddie pool" with fountains and water cannons, a "lazy river" 750 feet long and 10 feet wide, and a complex of five water slides. It would draw tourists and raise the region’s quality of life.

Mike Masterson went into overdrive
for his friends, spinning a vision of the economic benefits. If our "local officials are astute," he advised, "they will act to ensure that this plum of a park winds up in Fayetteville." By his calculations, the projected bonanza would be "170,000 times $25 or so in gate and concessions equals at least $4.25 million, plus assorted restaurant, fuel and miscellaneous expenditures, all rolled over seven times before departing Northwest Arkansas. Ozark Adventure could quickly become the premiere tourist and summer recreation boon to this region." Then he couldn't resist taunting, "As for the naysayers, can anyone recall any project in or around Fayetteville that hasn’t had them?"

Six months later, in May, 2003, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, "
Family Recreation and Development Corp., had originally planned to have the park up and running by this month, but they have not even closed on a piece of land yet." We were assured that "local investment bankers John Nock and David Lewis, of American Municipal Securities, have been advising the company on the water park," and the developer said, "It’s making some progress. We hope to be able to make an announcement within the next three weeks."

Less than a week later,
Lowell Mayor Phil Biggers announced that the Ozark Adventure Water Park would be built near the intersection of I-540 and Arkansas 264 and should bring in valuable sales tax revenue, job opportunities, and restaurant and hotel development. The project did not receive the financial backing to put the park in Fayetteville, even though John Nock and David Lewis were working with the developers.

At the new location, it was being reported in June 2003 as an "$11 million water park" that should be a regional attraction, bringing in at least 200,000 visitors a year. In May 2004, they held a groundbreaking ceremony for the long-planned Lowell water park, unveiling plans for a $12 million Hawaiian-themed attraction called Makahiki Beach that would open Memorial Day weekend 2005, "complete with at least six slides, a wave pool, lazy river, luau area, and a 60-foot concrete and steel steaming volcano."

Of course, we all know that the much ballyhooed water park never got built. A bunch of rich guys ended up getting richer and getting sued by their partners, a process that wound up this March in the Arkansas Supreme Court.

It's still not too late for Fayetteville to score a water park. John Nock could blow some smoke up the city administration and promise to build one at SouthPass next to Connie's 200-acre regional sports park he has promised to deed to the city if they will annex the property and approve his development. Or maybe he's thinking that eyesore of a bunghole the city has already sunk $3.7 million into could be a wave pool with slides coming down from the backs of those gnarly old buildings.

As for John Nock, we should just trust him.
"As for the naysayers, can anyone recall any project in or around Fayetteville that hasn’t had them?" Kohl's. Divinity Hotel. Mexican Original Empty Building. Deane Solomon High School. Westside Sewer Debacle. Wilson Spring Audubon Center.

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