The Ottumwa Courier

June 13, 2013

Lazy river no small chunk of change

By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The biggest challenge in adding a lazy river to The Beach Ottumwa is paying for it, a burden that will now fall on the shoulders of fundraisers.

Parks Director Gene Rathje said the Parks Advisory Board established a lazy river subcommittee this week, consisting of Jody Williams, Dana Warnecke and Nancy Menke.

"Their main job is going to be fundraising," Rathje said. "We're going to make some calls and ask people around town if they would be willing to donate to the lazy river and see what happens. If we're not fortunate enough to get donations, we'll have to put the project on hold until someone comes forward with funding."

The committee has brainstormed a few fundraising ideas, Williams said, but no solid plans have yet been made.

"But if Grinnell can raise the money and put a lazy river in their city's water park, then Ottumwa can," she said.

Several other Iowa communities already have lazy rivers, including the Grinnell Mutual Family Aquatic Center, Pella's Adventure River, Altoona's Adventure Bay and Caribbean Cruiser, Burlington's FunCity and Honey Creek Resort's Buccaneer Bay.

"Communities within a 100-mile radius of us have been able to make that happen," Williams said.

Rathje said obtaining a grant to fund the project isn't likely.

"The Vision Iowa fund used to fund 25 percent of these types of projects, but I don't think it exists anymore," he said. "That fund paid for 25 percent of our renovations two years ago: the new yellow water slide and new children's play area."

A lazy river addition could cost approximately $2.8 million, an amount that soars far above the parks department's budget.

The Beach used to have the only wave pool in Iowa, though it's now just one of a handful in the state, Williams said.

"As a part of family entertainment and how that's centered on Bridge View Center, the trails and the renovation of downtown Ottumwa, adding attractions to The Beach makes sense," she said. "It would bring more people into our community, who would not only pay admission at The Beach but spend and eat at other businesses in town."

And a lazy river has many uses, Williams said, including becoming "an opportunity for wellness." Swimmers can walk both with and against the flow of the river for resistance training.

According to proposed designs, a lazy river would fit within the current layout of The Beach.

"It's designed to fit in between the indoor pool building, where the kiddie play area is, and the fence, so no more park space would have to be annexed," she said.

While the City Council designated the lazy river as a top priority during a strategic planning session last year, Councilman Brian Morgan said he would prefer to see The Beach's current features updated and upgraded before any features are added on.

"The lazy river would be great, and I'd love to see it," he said. "And if they can raise the money for the lazy river, plus the maintenance fund for it, then yeah, I guess I'm fine with it. The problem I have is there are so many things at The Beach ... that are in need of repair and updated. I think spending $1 million to $1.5 million just updating what we have already is going to do us just as much good financially as a lazy river."

Morgan said he wouldn't want to see the city's good bond rating and low debt service tarnished after years of work.

"I hate to say it, but this is kind of one of those off-the-wall things. Do we really actually have to have this right now?" he said.

Rathje said he remains optimistic.

"Everywhere I go in town, people want to know when we're going to get it," he said. "But the key thing is funding, so we need a big donor to come forward because this isn't something we can nickel and dime."

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.