Intense discussion leads into yes votes for the $10 million water park plan.
The proposed Wright Park water park will go to the finalizing stage of planning after the joint Dodge City and Ford County Commissions approved a list of park features and a tentative layout, Monday.
Though the discussion often focused on the park's potential to become a regional draw under a $10 million budget, both commissions ultimately approved the park as recommended by the Community Facilities Advisory Board in June.
Members of both commissions were presented with three possible layouts, each representing "full-feature aquatics parks that will provide the kind of capacity that will serve this region well," City Parks Director Paul Lewis said.
The "Boomerango" featured attraction, a "swirl bowl," "lazy river" and other slides, sprays and play areas "are all major components that will be attractive to people throughout the region," Lewis added.
The park is expected to have roughly 18,000 square feet of water surface area.
Though County Chairman Chris Boys voted to move forward with the project as presented, he voiced doubts that a facility without some winter capabilities would be useful for economic growth. For an additional $2 million, the pool portion could be covered by a dome, allowing for a longer season, he said.
"This would really create a tourism draw for more than just a summertime phase," he said. A pool usable during the winter, "I can tell you, that's something that would really attract a lot of people from a lot of distance."
Boys echoed Dodge House owner Justin Swift, who said the city in the summer has little difficulty drawing guests. "I think we need to really think about 'How do we extend that season?'"
In order to meet the ambitious opening date in 2015, the commissions needed to approve a plan quickly, Lewis said.
County Commissioner Shawn Tasset was the sole no vote against the park as presented. With similar costs, the approved short course pool could be replaced with a 5,000 square foot wave pool.
"Have we really made up our mind if we're building an attraction or a community facility? ... Are we building the right pool with the lap pool versus the wave pool? If we are truly here to build an attraction, a wave pool sets us apart from the facilities that surround us," Tasset said.
"Personally I'm voting for this 90 percent for our kids and 10 percent for those around us," Mayor Brian Delzeit said. "This is for our kids. They've waited 12 years for this."
Also, discussions of add-ons and a facility with price tags higher than the approved $10 million budget was irresponsible without first determining where they money could come from, Delzeit said.
Whether it's a 50-meter competitive length swimming pool, a wave pool or an air suspension dome, that money would have to come from a somewhere no one yet has been willing to name.
"We voted a $10 million budget and we said 'What can we do for 10 million bucks?' And we have (options) 'A,' 'B,' and 'C.'"
"We have 10 million bucks and that's what we have to spend. Let's spend it and be proud of it and move on. ... We've got to come up with the money and we have to do it responsibly," he added.
One idea, to draw from the "Why Not Dodge" reserve fund, was irresponsible and he would vote against it, he said. "We should not be pulling money from the reserves until we know what we have."
Debbie Snapp, a leading member of the residents' group the Aquatics Task Force, was eager to see the commissions approve the project even if it didn't include the larger pool. "Having the 50-meter would be nice, but Brian (Delzeit), I have to agree with you ... if this is what we have lets go with that and be happy with it and bring it to our city. I think all these added things are great, don't get me wrong, but this is Dodge City and our community does not have a lot of money."
Operating costs are another concern, Delzeit said, and as the park will almost certainly be subsidized at an estimated rate of $75,000 per year, increased features would come from increased entry fees.
More than 80 percent of students in the Dodge City school district are on free or reduced price lunches, he said. "We can't go up in prices or we'll have an All-4-Fun no one can afford," he said, referring to the city's failed attempt to operate the games, go-carts and arcade facility on 14th Avenue.
The $10 million price tag on the park as tentatively designed by Water's Edge, the city's design firm, may also be a bit rubbery, City Commissioner Rick Sowers said. When bids from construction companies come back they could be high or low, allowing for additional features or requiring tough future conversations on cuts to the plan.
"When we put these costs out here, they're very conservative. We don't know the bidding environment," Dave Schwartz of Water's Edge said.
If prices come in lower than expected, and as a preparation for future expansion, the commissioners also approved paying for designing a 50-meter pool and a wave pool to include them in the bidding process as options.