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Things Are Getting Wet in Virginia: Kalahari Resorts Expands Waterpark Resort Concept to Virginia
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Groundbreaking began in October for the development of a new, large-scale waterpark and convention center just north of Richmond, Virginia. Located just off I-95 in the town of Thornburg, an unassuming area of farmland is the site for an epic $900 million, 1.38 million-square-foot water resort from Kalahari Resorts.

Based in Wisconsin, Kalahari's new park is scheduled to open in 2026, and become its second outpost on the east coast, and the fifth nation-wide. Development continues apace.

The massive waterpark will include 10 acres of outdoor pools for warm weather splashing fun, 1.38 million square feet of commercial space, a 175,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 900-room hotel and a 156,278-square-foot convention center. There will also be a 90,000-square-foot adventure park replete with rope courses, rides, climbing walls, and an arcade. The indoor waterpark will also include a surfing simulator and a wave pool. 

Along with the waterpark attractions both indoor and out, the location will include 12 different dining options and a full-service spa.

The groundbreaking event in late October made its own splash, as an occasion that included screened images of other waterparks from Kalahari and location renderings, along with food and drinks. 

Kalahari Resorts owner Todd Nelson related that the company's plans for the park have been “17 years in the making”. Back in 2007, Kalahari had intended to build a waterpark and conference center in Fredericksburg, Va., but plans were stalled by the 2008 recession.

Currently, Kalahari operates African-themed resorts in the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Sandusky, Ohio; Round Rock, Texas; and in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. Kalahari opened its first waterpark with an African theme back in 2000 in the Wisconsin Dells. 

Nelson first visited Africa in the mid-1990s, which inspired him to design first one, and then more waterparks reflecting the beauty he saw in African cultures. The company recently committed $50 million to a clean water project for the charity: water organization.

Nelson terms the new location as situated on “the most perfect site you could ever imagine,” for the company's fifth park. “We have always loved Virginia,” Nelson notes. “We can't wait to share the Kalahari experience with the people here.”

Design will feature elements popular in other Kalahari parks as well as new improvements. The company estimates the cost to build the waterpark at $885 million. Tax revenues should bring in millions annually, for an estimated $6.8 million a year to the community.

The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors approved rezoning of the acreage in 2022, along with performance incentives and a gap loan to assist with construction. But once the construction is completed and the park open, it should be the county's largest taxpayer, according to Spotsylvania County Supervisor Kevin Marshall, who also serves as the business development manager for the county's economic development department. 

Despite a hefty economic investment by the county, Marshall asserts that this investment is expected to not only generate construction jobs but also add 1,400 jobs, both full and part-time for the area, ranging from “entry to executive level.” 

According to Nelson, “Our family could not be prouder to call Spotsylvania County, Virginia, home to our fifth Kalahari resort…County and commonwealth officials and the Virginia people have been incredibly welcoming and supportive in helping us to make Kalahari Resort's fifth location a reality.”

Marshall points out that “The Nelson family has a proven track record of being an excellent community partner… we look forward to working with them through the construction and execution phases of the project, and for many years to come.” 

Virginia's Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Caren Merrick reports that “Tourism development is essential to building our economy and positioning the Commonwealth as a premier travel destination… Kalahari Resorts and Conventions will attract more visitors and businesses to Virginia, which will generate hospitality jobs and create a significant economic impact for the region.”

The Virginia location is a prime continuation of Kalahari's ongoing expansion of its waterparks. The Round Rock, Texas location expanded the outdoor section of its waterpark there last summer, adding thousands of square feet to include new attractions such as a 900-plus-foot wave action river, an interactive kids play area with nine outdoor slides, and a popular outdoor swim-up bar area for adults.

In May 2023, Kalahari added to its Sandusky, Ohio location with a brand new 15,000-square-foot pool, containing some 356,000 gallons of water, making it the largest of the company's outdoor pool locations. Premium poolside lounging and tanning ledges were added to three sides of the pool. Lounge chairs were positioned in a cooling, relaxing 8” of water, with most of the pool itself measuring 42” in depth. The pool's fourth side, away from the lounging area, now offers zero-depth entry, a perk for younger kids, along with strategically positioned fun fountains throughout this area.

There were other additions and improvements at the Sandusky Kalahari resort as well, which marked its 18th year in Ohio. These included a 50-foot free fall jump tower with a jump belt catch to lower those seeking excitement safely to the ground; a renovated zipline with four towers located at each corner of the outdoor waterpark; and revamping to the Zambezi Outdoor park with reimagined multiple thrill slides, private bungalows, and a “Bugs Burrow” kids area with a pool, swings and slides.

Elsewhere, Kalahari also added the Cinco Ninos Mexican restaurant to its Wisconsin Dells location. That location will offer a revamped spa experience this year, as well as 237 new hotel guest rooms, and new dining options for 2024 such as Sortino's Italian Kitchen and the quick casual Café Mirage.

Summing up, if 2023 was a big year for Kalahari waterparks, the coming year will be even bigger with the splashiest park of all moving into construction in the Spotsylvania region of Virginia.
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