A Delta City Council work session last week was dedicated to just one topic -- a proposed water park -- although proponents insist they don't need funding, or even approval, from the city.
Although Mayor Ron Austin made that point clear on a number of occasions, audience members, including representatives from Delta County Economic Development and Delta Urban Renewal Authority, wondered aloud why the informational session was held during a council work session.
Austin explained he felt the council meeting was an appropriate setting, since the idea for the water park was spurred by a council discussion about anticipated budget shortfalls just a couple of years down the road. The venture is seen as one way to generate sales tax for the city and lodging, sales and property tax for the county (the city does not collect lodging or property tax).
So the water park would be built on private land, with private investment dollars? Austin's response was short and to the point: "Absolutely."
"It is exciting to think of a project of this scale that doesn't rely on our taxpayers footing the bill," he said in his opening comments.
Still, there were questions about who would pay for a feasibility study, and whether it would be unbiased, since Austin and Delta resident Scott Schaible, the two most vocal proponents, have been closely aligned in their desire to see the project become a reality.
"Our community needs an influx of revenue," said Schaible. "It's as simple as that, but we can't do it unless we look at it all together ... we need to get behind something like a water park that can attract people as a destination, then connect those people to all of our businesses and all of our amenities. There's no hidden agenda. We just need to know you're supportive of it so we can begin the process."
Delta County Economic Development was well represented by staff and board members, who drew the conversation back to the in-depth Better City feasibility study that identified a name brand hotel/conference center as a catalyst for economic development in Delta County. Community members who were involved in the lengthy analysis never expressed the desire for a water park, pointed out Stacey Voigt, DCED executive director. "Now you're coming in late in the game," she said. "When you have a potentially good developer, you want to move forward."
As the conversation grew heated, Austin said the water park does not run counter to the Better City concept. He envisions a resort water park project capable of future expansion based upon popularity and demand. He said it's common to include a major branded hotel as a component of that project.
He added that individuals in the community have already committed money to pay for a feasibiity study. "Nobody's asking you for money," he reiterated. "It's about letting you see an opportunity we're talking about for this community."
"But you want to disrupt what we're working on," said Tom Huerkamp, DCED vice president and a Delta Urban Renewal Authority commissioner.
Others encouraged an open mind. "You can't just get a little bit of input and walk away and think you're done," said Bob Johnson, referring to the Better City study.
During the first portion of the meeting, Dan Martin of Market Feasibility Advisors, discussed the water park and the magnets that are needed to make Delta a destination. His presentation was made via Skype from his home in the Chicago area.
"You have one magnet -- amazing beauty and recreation, but it's physically all over the place," he said. "You need to focus it, and you need to focus it in Delta."
He suggested amenities that could turn Delta into a base camp for outdoor exploration -- lodging, cool places to eat, shop and hang out, an aquatic attraction and/or a riverside park.
Having been briefed about the proposed hotel development, he said one Holiday Inn Express looks much like another. To avoid a "cookie cutter" approach, he suggested other lodging alternatives, from air bnbs on the second floor of historic downtown buildings to tiny houses and a vintage trailer camp. All would create a far more memorable overnight experience, he said.
"There's a bigger visitor economy out there," he said, adding his recommendation that the economy be locally owned and managed.
At a DURA meeting held two days later, commissioners amended their RFP to include a 70-room upper midscale hotel, as well as a "water park and/or other attractions that may be determined to be appropriate in assisting DURA with achieving its redevelopment goals and objectives." Every reference to "hotel" was expanded to "development" to open the door to additional attractions. The deadline for submissions is July 2.
A previous RFP drew just one interested developer.