Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Kings Island campground may become new resort


Company in talks to build hotel, indoor water park

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
The new Tazmanian Typhoon at Paramount's Kings Island. While Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay is opening this spring, another company that wants to build an indoor water park, hotel and conference center on what is now the Kings Island campground.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MICHAEL SNYDER

MASON - A Wisconsin-based resort company is negotiating with Paramount's Kings Island to build an estimated $60 million hotel and indoor water park on the theme park's campground.

While details are not final, the Great Lakes Companies Inc.'s Great Wolf Lodge Family Resort is likely to include a 300-room hotel, a conference center for up to 1,200 people and a year-round, indoor water park covering about 90,000 square feet. The water park would be almost three times the size of the one at the company's Great Bear Lodge in Sandusky, spokesman Eric Lund said.

Like its other resorts, Great Wolf would have a woodland lodge theme that includes log walls and a vaulted-ceiling lobby area with a stone fireplace.

"All the details haven't been worked out yet," Lund said Tuesday. "But it's going to be a significant investment in Warren County."

Great Lakes and Kings Island are still negotiating, so details about whether the land would be sold or leased were not available. It is unclear what would happen to the campground, which will remain open this year, Kings Island spokesman Jeffrey Siebert said.

What is clear is that Great Lakes would provide the capital for the resort, he said.

"This is something that we're very excited about, but this is still in the negotiating process," Siebert said.

The property they are considering is part of almost 75 acres that Kings Island is trying to get annexed from Deerfield Township into Mason. The issue got Mason City Council's support Monday and now goes to the Warren County commissioners for final approval.

The rest of the theme park is already inside the city limits, according to City Manager Scot Lahrmer.

Deerfield Township Trustee Barbara Wilkens Reed declined to comment on whether the township would fight the annexation.

"It's very disappointing for the taxpayers in Deerfield Township," Reed said.

If the annexation is approved, the township would retain its part of the property taxes, but earnings taxes would go to the city.

Great Lakes officials have also asked the county to waive the more than $1 million in utility connection fees. County commissioners Tuesday requested more information.

While officials are still working out the details, Great Lakes is compiling a feasibility study to see how well the resort would be received. That study should be done in a few weeks, Lund said.

Shirley Bonekemper, executive director of the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau, hopes Great Wolf will complement, and not compete with, other Warren County attractions, including The Beach Waterpark and Kings Island's Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay outdoor water park, which opens this season. The year-round attraction also could increase off-season visitors.

Until the study is done, it's unclear how much of a boost it will be for tourism, which is Warren County's largest industry, bringing $410 million to the economy each year.

"We don't know enough yet to say specifically how it is going to affect the other attractions," Bonekemper said. "But it's a plus for tourism, any which way you look at it."

E-mail esolvig@enquirer.com




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