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Waldameer Adding Attractions to Last Summer’s $9 Million Expansion

Steve Gorman worried the rain would leave his business all wet.

Gorman, the president of Waldameer Park & Water World, watched as the precipitation drenched the region in June and early July, dampening Waldameer’s debut of one of its most expensive attractions — a 467,200-gallon wave pool.

But by mid-July, the weather had become sunnier and the bathers plentiful.

Gorman was relieved.

“By the beginning of July, we were pretty scared,” he said. “We were really hurting. The weather was really bad. We were thinking, ‘What are we doing with this wave pool?’

“But then the weather turned around,” Gorman said, “and it proved to be a wonderful addition.”

Gorman this summer is ready for another addition — the second phase of the expansion of Waldameer’s water park.

Waldameer’s staff, including Gorman and his father-in-law, Paul Nelson, Waldameer’s owner, are introducing the Kidz Zone, an area next to the wave pool designed for children shorter than 4 feet.

Kidz Zone will feature:

– Eight colorful slides that will empty into a 50,000-gallon splash pool.

– The 4,000-square-foot Splash Pad spray deck, with 30 interactive water spray jets for younger children.

– Twelve cabanas that visitors can rent. Each will feature a refrigerator, lounge, chairs and a table.

“There will be more for the younger kids to do,” Gorman said of Kidz Zone. “It is a secure area. Young families will be happy.”

In the main park, Waldameer is opening the Carousel Sub Shop. It will be next to the merry-go-round, in the area that had been the Imagination Station craft attraction.

Gorman said this season’s improvements will cost $1 million. The 2015 expansion, he said, cost $9 million, including $3.3 million for the wave pool. Waldameer built a new parking lot as part of the 2015 work.

All of the additions are the latest example of Waldameer following its mantra: that the park, which turns 120 years old this year and has more than 75 rides and attractions, offer something new each season.

For any amusement park, “adding something new is almost a must, to keep people coming back,” said Jeffrey D. Mona, president and co-owner of the Erie-based American Resort Management LLC, a development, consulting and management business whose clients include amusement parks and water parks.

“It’s always great if you can add a new feature and grow your park,” said Mona, whose clients do not include Waldameer. “It gives you the potential for more capacity and gives you the potential to market to a wider variety of age groups.”

Mona, who is also on the board of the World Waterpark Association, praised Nelson and Gorman and their families for reinvesting in Waldameer with the wave pool and other rides. Those rides include the $7.5 million Ravine Flyer II roller coaster, which opened in 2008 and spans Peninsula Drive near the entrance to Presque Isle State Park in Millcreek Township.

“They do a great job,” Mona said. “They are fairly forward-thinking. They realize they need to grow and expand, and the nice thing is they are committed to putting money into it, and they are seeing the return.”

With the wave pool helping to anchor the park, Waldameer enjoyed a solid 2015 season, Gorman said. The season also inaugurated Waldameer’s seven-day-a-week schedule. The park had been closed Mondays.

“Our revenue was up about 20 percent, largely due to our increased operating calendar,” Gorman said.

In addition, he said, “Labor Day was later than usual, so we had about 20 percent more operating days. Our operating expenses increased as well, mainly due to increased utilities — water and electric — and more staffing for the water park expansion.”

Season passes, which Waldameer introduced in 2010, increased in popularity, giving Waldameer an influx of cash at the start of each season. Gorman said sales of season passes rose 15 percent, and that about 20 percent of those carrying passes were from outside Erie County.

The wave pool drove much of the increased traffic at Waldameer, Gorman said. But he said the park was able to accommodate more people mainly because of the wave pool, which can hold as many as 1,000 bathers. The large number of people in the wave pool alleviated crowding in other areas of the park, particularly on hot days, Gorman said.

“Some people call a wave pool a people eater,” he said. “The wave pool did what I was hoping for. It spread people out in our other water parks, because we were overcrowded on busy days. Traffic flow was better. It was a new attraction that drew people in as well.”

Gorman and Nelson are already planning for the 2017 season, when the third phase of the water park expansion is scheduled to open. Among the features will be a large climbing structure, more slides and a large tipping bucket.

In the years ahead, Waldameer plans to add more adult water slides, “and we are also looking into doing something to the amusement park,” Gorman said. “We have a long-range plan.”

A dedication to such thinking — rain or shine — has become Waldameer’s way.

“Family-owned parks can get complacent,” said Mona, of American Resort Management. “It is always nice to see someone who is successful stay successful.”

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