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Mayor Lovely Warren floated the idea of an indoor waterpark behind the Strong Museum on what is now the Inner Loop.

Let’s discuss it.

The eastern portion of Inner Loop will likely be filled in. That creates 8-9 acres of extra land, some of which can be used for a waterpark.

Courtesy: The Strong

Courtesy: The Strong

The Strong attracted 565,000 visitors in 2012 who came from all over the world. Is it possible some of them would stay a little longer and spend more money in Rochester with another family-oriented attraction next door? This could make a lot of sense.

The reason the city would promote an indoor waterpark is to attract jobs, tourism dollars and property tax payments. Do water parks make good economic development sense?

Waterparks are a $4 billion business in the United States, and revenue is growing. There are more than 500 waterparks employing nearly 40,000 people.

An article in Aquatics International explained why localities find waterparks attractive – and how they often require mega-deals using public funds:

“When you come in with an $18 million to $20 million payroll, 1,200 jobs and a tax base that solves their tax problems, most welcome you with open arms,” says Todd Nelson, owner and president of Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which has begun planning a new $350 million waterpark resort in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.


“Waterpark developments have received a variety of economic incentives, including tax abatements, room tax rebates for waterpark resorts, infrastructure funds, income tax rebates, and assistance in acquiring land,” says David Sangree, president of consulting firm Hotel & Leisure Advisors in Cleveland, who does feasibility and economic impact studies for the waterpark industry.


Why do public incentives matter so much in the private waterpark industry, which is a tourism sector that everyone says is growing? The answer is financing.

The article described truly massive public subsidies for waterparks. Does Rochester have the means and the fortitude for such a venture? Would it pay off?

The mayor also suggested a hotel at the waterpark. Monroe County’s hotel market is getting saturated, with more and more rooms coming on the market. Experts say a huge market analysis is needed and a waterpark alone won’t sustain a hotel:

For the hotel to succeed, it must have a balanced mix of customers: business, leisure and groups. If you just sell rooms during the summer and every weekend all year, your hotel may run 50 to 55 percent occupancy annually. You need other types of customers — in addition to waterpark families — to reach occupancies in the 70s and 80s. We have yet to work on a hotel waterpark project that did not need support from all types of customers.

The mayor said she has had preliminary conversations with developers. A major feasibility study would be needed, one that would have to be shared with the public.

Rochester already had one major tourism project fail (the fast ferry). There’s nothing saying the city can’t pursue economic development projects involving tourism at the same time it pursues ones focused on innovation and technology. But I have a feeling which is more likely to pay bigger dividends. What do you think?


On the Second Stop


With the admission of a second stop on the Thruway, Mayor Lovely Warren was caught being less than truthful in her press conference on Monday. I don’t expect her to discuss this again, because the matter of the security detail is before the ethics board. The entire controversy has been handled horrendously by City Hall.

Meanwhile, Albany’s mayor drives herself around – in her own car.


On the Mayor and Me


A firestorm on social media followed Mayor Lovely Warren’s treatment of me at Monday’s press conference. She ignored my questions. Her spokesperson said she was angry at questions I posed on social media and my blog. It was rude awkward, uncomfortable and was not the mayor’s finest moment. The mayor expressed regret for what happened on a radio program Wednesday morning and indicated she’d had a rough day. I accept that explanation.

Warren I met on Wednesday evening and talked about the role of the media. Both of us were concerned at people using what happened at the press conference to set up a “war” between us and to further their own agendas. Those agendas sometimes included racial animosity (on both sides). It was terribly stressful for me to be part of a news story in this fashion. I am confident the mayor and I will have a professional relationship. I am grateful she wanted to meet. We both have moved on from this incident. She knows I will continue to ask tough questions.


Jeff Speck Coming to Rochester


I wrote a review of Jeff Speck’s book, “Walkable Cities.” He will be in Rochester on Tuesday for a speech. Here are the details. He will also be my guest on News 8 First at 4 on Tuesday.


18 Responses to On the Waterpark

  1. You wrote: “Mayor Lovely Warren was caught being less than truthful in her press conference on Monday.” Let me edit that for you: ‘Mayor Lovely Warren was caught LYING in her press conference on Monday.’ There, better.

  2. January 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm Animule responds:

    The waterpark may have been an original idea 10 to 15 years ago. But we have plenty of them around today. There are at least two in Niagara Falls (one that is literally in the line of sight from the Rainbow Bridge), and there is a big one in Erie, PA called Splash Lagoon that is right off of I-90. And there are smaller “waterparks” in hotels and even town halls (like the Perinton Rec Center). This doesn’t even mention outdoor waterparks like Sea Breeze, the park in Canandaigua and the one at Darien Lake.

    The thing that most of these waterparks have in common is that they are rarely the only attraction. In Niagara Falls, there is lots of other things to do. Same at Wisconsin Dells, because that place has a critical mass of other waterparks and attractions. Splash Lagoon is the outlier here, but there is a ton of traffic that goes by that place every day. It’s unlikely that a city-based waterpark, even if located next to the Strong Museum, would offer that much new and different that these other places don’t already offer. The devil is in the details, and who knows how large this thing would be.

    The odds are good that if this is some kind of monstrosity, that it would pull some hotel traffic out of the other downtown hotels. And since the occupancy rates there aren’t anything to write home about, the development might actually kill one of those hotels off.

    It would be nice if the city would suspend all new pie-in-the-sky projects like this until other ones had been paid for. We’re likely still paying for the Fast Ferry, so why the rush to create another white elephant?

  3. Keep up the good work, Rachel.

  4. January 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm Matthew McDermott responds:

    Like most things in life, there are no guarantees with economic development projects. Ideally, we’d like to fund or help early stage companies that turn out to be the next Xerox or Paychex or other large employer in our region. Clearly, this type of project doesn’t have that sort of “home run” potential.

    That said, tourism efforts seem to me to be worthy of some level of investment from the standpoint that they bring outside dollars into our region. We already have infrastructure like VisitRochester that markets our region and this would likely be an additional item to help draw a certain demographic of visitors here. In the process you create an amenity that we don’t currently have for existing residents to enjoy. We have a reputation as a family-friendly city and this type of project builds on and complements what we already are, as opposed to launching in a new direction.

    To continue the baseball analogy, this could be a nice “base hit” if done correctly and without excessive public dollars.

  5. January 17, 2014 at 2:50 pm Ginny Maier responds:

    I like Matthew’s “base hit” analogy. Don’t try for (or pretend it is) a home run, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider what the city can do to support and build on the Strong Museum’s success. Because of Strong’s proximity, a neighboring hotel/waterpark doesn’t have to be the “latest greatest” in and of itself. A place where families can stay to extend their visit to the Strong and which has its own recreational activities. The hotels on the Disney properties are not “Great Wolf Lodge” — but they have nice pools and comfortable lounge areas. This kind of development wouldn’t need massive subsidies. I would definitely push back against a pie-in-the-sky, can-only-happen-with-a-30-year-tax-abatement project.

  6. I response to the “second stop”.
    I am sure you are correct that the mayor will not discuss this again. It has nothing to do, however, with the ethics board. The ethics board will look into the hiring of her security detail, not her willful deception of the public regarding the traffic stops.
    The mayor clearly violated the nepotism policy. Particularly section 4.2 which states: “Administrative Staff is prohibited from influencing the employment (hire, promotion, transfer, termination, etc) of anyone who is a family member.” By the mayor’s own admission, she is the one who hired her uncle because she felt most comfortable with him and his qualifications. Seems pretty cut and dry to me – should be a short meeting.
    The mayor should be encouraged to discuss her “less than truthful” statements. Like you have said many times. It is not the speeding, but the cover-up. If she is willing to willfully mislead the public over something so trivial, how will she handle something important?

  7. I commend the mayor for thinking outside of the box and have no problem with government facilitating this, but I do have a problem with government subsidizing a waterpark. We all still remember the fast ferry all too well.

  8. A water park is a terrible idea! Let’s not over-think this. People can go to the beach all summer long for free. Or pay to go to Sea-breeze. People would not attend this waterpark. That is valuable land for new housing. Private developers would buy that land without any $help$ from the city.

  9. Is that section of the inner loop so under utilized that it would make sense to fill it? why aren’t poor neighborhoods a priority?

  10. January 18, 2014 at 9:06 am Ginny Maier responds:

    On second thought, after digging in to all of your links, Rachel, I a feeling very nervous about the whole thing. There are water park developers who basically specialize in getting economically-stressed communities to give them giant subsidies, a la Bass Pro (and the Congel family). That the mayor said she’s already spoken with an interested developer makes me worried that one of these …. Is predators too strong a word? … has already identified ROC as a mark. I do love the Strong and think it is somewhat under appreciated as a community resource — it seems like a nearby family friendly hotel would be great for both a hotel and the museum, but I honestly don’t know much about the downtown hotel market to say that it’s needed. I think if any developer comes forward, we should take a very careful look at what is being proposed and what the public is being asked to contribute.

  11. Albany’s mayor driving self. Much respect.

    • January 20, 2014 at 2:25 pm Steve Bathory responds:

      Perhaps Mayor Warren could learn something from Albany’s female mayor.
      If it’s not already too late for her to learn anything, like telling the truth.

  12. “The Strong attracted 565,000 visitors in 2012”

    I suspect those numbers are heavily inflated as it relates to a water park. The Strong is a great attraction for Rochester, many families have year long passes. They go there multiple times a year and bring friends with them.

    The number that matters is the actual number of out of Rochester visitors who would support the water park. Few families from Buff or SYR will stay over night so the real number is those who stay over is likely even lower. I suspect a detailed review by a CPA would show the overnight guests numbers don’t justify a new hotel or water park. An exclusive child film movie theater would seem to make more sense first, to extend the stays. Then the numbers may support the water park.

    On Ms Warren and lying.. correct. And as Jeff points out, Ms Warren is scamming and dodging if not lying again saying “the matter” is being looked at by the ethics committee. I don’t think the ethics committee will address the lying.

    Ms Warren directly lied to the people of Rochester on TV multiple times and in essence called the stopping officers liars as well. She needs to correct her statements, apologize to the people and the officers. Her Uncles statement is not good enough. And she should not be allowed to dodge these items. She does not need to have the ethics committee report to know what she said was wrong, nor do the people. Any PR firm would tell her to make this correction ASAP.

    And thankfully some local reporters are pushing her to make this correct and not letting her off the hook. ALL area reporters need to pick up this demand for truth and corrections by the Mayor.

    As we have seen the people will be very forgiving.

  13. Waterpark ??? I don’t have any idea. This idea and any others like it requires intelligent and experienced people knowledgable in urban development. Is there anyone on Mayor Warren’s staff that fits that criteria? Any manager is only as successful as the capabilities of the people she surrounds herself with. Does she have anyone like that? Who is her major advisor? The answers to these questions will determine the fate of Rochester. To date, she has not demonstrated good judgement nor strength of character. Just my thoughts.

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  15. Regarding the water park, I’d much rather see smaller scale, mixed residential/retail/office development than a water park and hotel. I have a few reasons:

    (1) If a water park succeeds, great, but if it tanks then it’s nothing but an expensive eyesore. If a small business fails, it can be replaced by another, more suitable, small business.

    (2) Mixed development is more flexible. Retail stores can become restaurants, offices, etc.

    (3) The city needs more people living downtown. Residents support small retail, and small retail attracts residents. This is a great opportunity to bring in both.

    (4) I suspect that most of the people who visit the Strong Museum are from around the area and have no need for a hotel or city water park.

    (5) There are new hotels going up at Collegetown and on East Main Street downtown. How much hotel capacity does Rochester need?

    Finally, Rochester is in the midst of a modest downtown revival that is largely being driven by a national trend of boomers and millennials moving to urban areas. I’d like to see us build on that strength.

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