Leslie Parker remembers sitting outside Gary’s Hamburgers on Georgia Avenue on a warm September day when a co-worker asked her, “Did you hear that North Augusta is getting a new water park?”
As a mother of three small children, Parker said she was ecstatic over the news.
“It had been such a long, hot summer and the kids were miserable stuck inside the house,” Parker said. “I thought a water park would be a wonderful addition to the area.”
But it has been months since the developers of Scuttle’s Island Water Park announced they planned to build a $21.5 million project off Interstate 20, at exit 5 in North Augusta and the property still sits vacant.
There has been no physical movement on the project, which is scheduled to open by May 2016.
“Is it really going to happen?” Parker asked. “Didn’t they say it was supposed to open next year? I haven’t heard anything about it. I sure hope they are still going to build it. My kids will be really disappointed if they don’t.”
About two months ago, Scuttle’s Island developers Benjamin Bell and Andrew Thompson announced they planned to build a new 40-acre water park in North Augusta by Memorial Day weekend that would be home to the “tallest water slide in the Southeast.”
The park, which they estimated would bring between 250,000 to 300,000 visitors annually to North Augusta, would include 24 attractions such as a 34,000-square-foot wave pool, a 54-foot slide, a 90-foot slide called “Walk the Plank” and a “Not So Lazy River,” which would consist of a 2,000-foot river with rapids and a waterfall.
Plans for Scuttle’s Island also included two full-service restaurants and four quick-service restaurants. Specifically, Bell said the park would have a Mexican-themed bar and restaurant and an ice cream parlor on site.
At the time of the announcement, many residents were thrilled about the enormous potential this water park could bring to North Augusta.
“It is exciting to see an economic development recreational project of this magnitude come to our city,” North Augusta Mayor HYPERLINK “http://www.northaugusta.net/about-us/city-government/elected-officials” Lark Jones said following the September announcement. “This will be something that families from across the Southeast will be able to enjoy for generations to come.”
But now some local residents like Parker are wondering if this water park will ever become a reality.
“I hope this isn’t one of those ‘too-good-to-be-true’ sort of things,” Parker said. “We’d love to have it here.”
To date, Scott Sterling, director of North Augusta’s Department of Planning and Development, said the Scuttle’s Island developers have not submitted any plans for the project to his office.
“No, they have not,” Sterling said. “I have not heard anything about it.”
When asked if it was odd for a project of this magnitude that is hoping to open in May not to have already submitted its plans, Sterling said he would rather not say.
“That is not really for me to comment on,” he said. “I take the applications as they come in and we process them. We are anticipating that they will still be coming in. I’m not sure when they will, but we are still expecting them.”
Mayor Lark Jones also said he has not received any updates on the plans for the project.
“I don’t have any news on Scuttle’s Island as to if or when they may apply for approval,” he said.
The Metro Spirit tried several times to contact Bell, who also owns Lights of the South in Grovetown, but he could not be reached for comment.
According to the Scuttle’s Island website, scuttlesisland.net, any media and marketing inquiries are to be directed to RedFire Media, the “agency of record” for the park.
But Rusty Molton, owner of RedFire Media, said he isn’t currently speaking for the developers. Molton, however, agreed to pass the Metro Spirit’s request for an interview on to Bell and Thompson.
Despite the fact there seems to be a lot of questions surrounding the future of the proposed water park, North Augusta’s city administrator, Todd Glover, said he is confident that Scuttle’s Island will open this spring.
“I spoke with the developers last week and I know they have been meeting with DHEC,” Glover said, referring to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. “In South Carolina, DHEC has to permit public pools and things like that. I know that they had a meeting last week and they said everything was still moving along nicely. At this point, they are still on schedule for a Memorial Day opening.”
Of course, that opening date might have to change depending on weather conditions, Glover said. A great deal of rain can slow the progress of the development, particularly relating to the concrete work necessary to build the park.
“I would think, certainly they would love to be open on Memorial Day, but if they miss a few days or a week, it may happen because you never know what the weather is going to be like,” Glover said. “In fact, it seems like here lately we live in Seattle because all it does is rain.”
While Glover says he realizes residents would like to start seeing the park under construction, he believes it will happen very soon.
“According to the developers, they told me everything is still moving along very nicely,” Glover said, adding, however, that the tentative construction timeline might have to be slightly adjusted. “I know when we initially met, we were hoping that they were going to be on the November agenda for the planning commission. I don’t know if that is still the case because those are typically the third Thursday of the month. So, that would be Nov. 19. If they were going to make the November meeting, that’s only a few weeks away. So I don’t know if that is still their plan or not.”
Glover said people also have to remember that Bell has his hands full right now with Lights of South, which opens on Nov. 20 and runs through the holidays.
“They are really busy with Lights of the South, decorating and getting that set up,” Glover said. “So, he’s busy. But we’re ready on our end.”
Just last month, the North Augusta City Council amended a city ordinance that would allow for “recreation, outdoor commercial” uses within the commercial district that includes the proposed property off Interstate 20, next to exit 5.
That amendment officially paved the way for the water park.
During the press conference in September announcing the new water park, Glover also said that the City of North Augusta and Aiken County were reviewing possible incentives that they could offer the developers. Those incentives have not been finalized or approved by the city council yet.
All North Augusta needs is the project’s plans to be filed with the city in order to get the ball rolling.
“We are just waiting for them to submit the plans,” said Sterling. “Then, we’ll go from there.”
But the length of time it has taken for the developers to submit the water park’s plans to the city has some residents worrying that North Augusta might find itself in the same boat as Columbia County.
Just last year, Bell announced that Scuttle’s Island, featuring 20 water slides, a lazy river, a water playground and a 55,000-square-foot wave pool, would be built on his property along Louisville Road in Grovetown.
At first the county celebrated the announcement, but then Bell began butting heads with the county officials.
Bell claimed he experienced nothing but constant roadblocks by the county in trying to get the water park approved and built.
County officials disagreed, insisting that Bell did not provide a sufficient amount of information regarding his plans.
Some of the rezoning items the county and Bell struggled over ranged from certain site plan requirements, the need for a comprehensive traffic impact study and a proposal to pave the property’s parking lots.
There were also some concerns about traffic congestion and infrastructure problems that a new water park might create among some of the residents living near the Lights of the South property.
By April of this year, Bell pulled the plug on the project in Columbia County.
“We’ve already got the slides coming. We’ve engineered everything. It is ready to build right now,” Bell told the Metro Spirit in April. “And it should be opened this year in Columbia County, but it’s not.”
“Columbia County is not going to stop us. We are building the water park,” Bell said in April. “We may not be able to build it right on the Lights of the South property, but we are definitely building that water park within a few miles from here. We already have another county who is actually extremely nice to us and hasn’t slammed every door in our faces.”
As a result, Bell found a city and county that are now eager to see the water park project he has been dreaming about for more than a decade become a reality.
The only question now is: What’s the hold up?
Scuttle’s Island is supposed to be the future home of the “tallest water slides and second-largest wave pool in the Southeast.”
That’s saying a lot.
In comparison, Six Flags White Water is a 69-acre water park located just northwest of Atlanta that hosts more than 500,000 visitors a year.
The park originally opened back in 1984 as White Water Atlanta, but became part of Six Flags in 1999.
It is home to such slides as the “Tornado,” that shoots visitors from a height of 75 feet down a 132-foot tunnel into a pool of more than 5,000 gallons of water. There is also the popular “Typhoon Twister” that sends a four-person tube barreling down an enclosed five-story drop before shooting the tube out into a gigantic 67-foot wide bowl that spins visitors around and around.
The “Dive Bomb” is a slide that actually drops the floor out from underneath visitors and they plummet down more than 10 stories at nearly 90 degrees. The Dive Bomb is the tallest slide ever built at Six Flags White Water.
But according to Bell, Scuttle’s Island will have an even taller slide that will attract visitors from all over the region.
If the water park is constructed, there is no doubt it could be a huge boost to the economies of both North Augusta and Aiken County.
According to Aquatics International magazine, a water park offers the promise of serious tax dollars as well as a mix of temporary, seasonal and permanent jobs.
“In Wisconsin Dells, which has the highest concentration of water parks in the country, the industry has helped build what is now a tax base of $1.1 billion for a city of only 2,700 residents,” a 2013 article in Aquatics International stated.
More than 15 million people passed through the turnstiles at the top 20 water parks in the U.S. each year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
“In 1995, Wilderness Resort opened with 79 hotel rooms and a 9,000-square-foot indoor water park — making it the largest indoor water park in the Wisconsin Dells area,” a recent article in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel stated. “Twenty years later, the Wilderness has been expanded several times to 1,400 guest rooms, including 200 timeshare units and 250,000 square feet of indoor water parks and dry play space.”
A water park in North Augusta could definitely make a big splash and dramatically impact the tourism in this area, but the plans need to be submitted in order for the project to move forward.
But, as far as City Administrator Todd Glover is concerned, visitors will soon be spending their summers enjoying the giant slides and the huge wave pools in North Augusta.
“At this point, I can say the water park is going to happen,” Glover said. “It is just a question of when.”