By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
It will be like no other in the country when a state-of-the-art water park opens in Gilbert in the summer of 2020 and people can surf a 10-foot-high wave and water skiers are pulled by an electric cable.
Although the 25-acre project includes a sandy beach and inflatable play structures, it is aimed at a skill-based crowd, according to Rocky Brown, Parks and Recreation’s Business Operations manager.
Brown last week detailed the deal that the council signed in February with operators of The Strand @Gilbert for the Parks and Recreation Board.
The water park will sit on one of three parcels totaling 47 acres adjacent to 272-acre Gilbert Regional Park under construction at Queen Creek and Higley roads. Gilbert set the three parcels aside for the development of recreational amenities through public-private partnerships.
Staff worked 18 months behind closed doors negotiating with The Strand to bring the water park to Gilbert at no cost to the town, Brown said.
The agreement also requires The Strand to build 400 parking spots that will be shared with the town, pay a minimum annual lease payment of $253,191 and participate in an annual profit sharing that is anticipated to generate between $450,000 and $750,000 for Gilbert.
In response to board member Matthew Roberts’ questions, Brown said the project will have no impact on the town’s water supply and that The Strand will need to bring its own.
Department Director Robert Carmona said the park will use 158-acre-feet of water a year – the same usage as a resort pool and less than half the 400 acre feet of water used annually by a golf course.
Roberts also asked what the price of admission will be at the year-round facility.
The pricing is not public yet but there will be a diverse structure that includes a daily rate and a membership rate, Brown said. Under the 50-year deal, Gilbert residents get a 10 percent discount.
Board member Barbara Guy voiced concerns the facility might be “kind of spendy” for the average family.
She also asked if the water park fills the public’s need.
Guy said when the town planned the regional park, some of the amenities the public wanted to see was diving, and she asked if the water park’s offerings fall in line with what the public wanted.
Carmona said the regional park’s master plan included an aquatics center, which would cost $20 million to build and $2 million a year to operate.
“We don’t have a funding source for the aquatics component in the master plan right now,” he said.
Vice Mayor Eddie Cook said the $100 million regional park is being built in three phases.
The first phase will be funded with system development fees, phase two with proceeds from the auction last year of two sizeable chunks of land the town purchased years ago from farmer Bernard Zinke. Funding for phase 3 has not yet been identified.
Cook, the council liaison to the board, explained that when the town went out with a request for proposal in 2017, The Strand was one of three companies that came forward with proposals.
He said the council majority in executive session picked The Strand – which he said is not exactly what was called for in a needs assessment but represented a compromise.
Cook said another option for that parcel was a large private business with membership fees for use of its pools, but the company didn’t want to lease the land from the Town.
Carmona said the developer is still working on the water park’s master plan and once that was completed, it will be presented to the board.
He said the water park will be surrounded by a fence and will be designed so it looks like it’s part of the park.
The first 30 acres of the regional park is broken into phase 1 and phase 1B.
Phase 1 is expected to open in September and will include amenities such as the longest slide in Arizona and a 6,000-square-foot splash pad with 55 water features, Carmona said.
Once that phase opens, the town will immediately begin work on phase 1B, which includes pickleball and tennis courts, a lake, amphitheater and a great lawn.