GALVESTON, TX-The local business community is braced for the positive for a proposed $28-million Schlitterbahn water park as city officials head into negotiations for a 30- to 40-year ground lease. The city and park developer have been discussing the project for four years.

A spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn emphasizes the proposal is not a done deal, but most would agree that it will come to fruition. The water park, if approved, will begin construction in spring 2004 so it can open in the summer on 25 acres adjacent to the Moody Gardens entertainment complex, just south of the Interstate 45 entrance to the island. The council last week directed the city manager to begin ground lease negotiations.

The water park site sits in the bounds of Scholes International Airport, the benefactor of any lease proceeds. Six of Schlitterbahn’s acres are leased to Farmer Marine Cooper, which has agreed to sublease the land, says Hud Hopkins, airport director. An 8,000-sf repair shop will be razed while a 12,000-sf former military hangar could end up renovated and part of the park.

Jeff Sjostrom, president of the city’s Economic Development Partnership, says the city is not offering any tax abatements to attract the developer. But, the project clearly will help to fuel the current “economic renaissance” that has put the island into its best position in seven years, he says. The partnership estimates more than $930 million is being poured into development projects on the island. Just in the last year, more than three million sf of commercial projects and 2,300 residential units were developed.

“Investment interest is increasing on all fronts,” Sjostrom tells Retailers now are clamoring for pad sites when a few years ago they had no interest in the city. Home Depot, Target, Kroger and Academy Sports & Outdoors are among those recently setting up shop on the island.

Carolyn Clyburn, a broker at House Co. in Galveston, agrees the Schlitterbahn project “would be a boon for Galveston.” While property values already are rising, the jobs, sales taxes and interest the park would create would be a boon for the local real estate market, she says.

Sjostrum says there are some parcels located near the water park site that could be redeveloped into complementary commercial projects. Meanwhile, he believes the park is crucial to filling in the tourism gap for teen-agers and young adults.

Schlitterbahn Waterparks’ flagship facility is the 65-acre water park in New Braunfels between Austin and San Antonio. The New Braunfels-based developer also owns a 15-acre park on South Padre Island.

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