by: Scott Thomas / Community Impact News
City officials say they have found the next big thing for Round Rock, one that is anticipated to bring in a new revenue stream in a similar way that Dell Inc., The Dell Diamond and the “Sports Capital of Texas” brand did before it.
The city of Round Rock announced June 15 it is working with Kalahari Resorts & Conventions to bring a destination hotel, conference center and water park to the city in a move that city leaders are saying could turn Round Rock into a tourist destination.
Kalahari owner Todd Nelson said the Round Rock location will be the largest Kalahari resort. He said the resort will include about 990 guest rooms, about 200,000 square feet for the indoor water park, and 150,000 square feet of convention space.
“It’s more than a water park,” Nelson said. “The entertainment that we’ll bring will just grow and grow.”
Nelson said Kalahari locations are typically 125-150 acres, and this location will sit on more than 340 acres.
The resort is expected to create more than 700 full-time and part-time jobs, and the company will invest at least $250 million in the project. A memorandum of understanding states construction will start within 36 months, and the city estimates construction will last approximately two years. The company hopes to be open by 2020.
“We feel like this is a game-changer because the size of the convention center they’re speaking of—we don’t have that in Williamson County or Round Rock,” said Ben White, vice president of economic development for the Round Rock Chamber. “This is going to allow us to bring in businesses and families, and it’s going to grow our retail space.”
City Council members signed the memorandum of understanding at their June 23 meeting agreeing on the intent to build such a facility. The deal is not final, but both city and company officials have said they are moving forward on the project. Work is still underway to clarify what incentives the city will offer, but White said incentives will likely feature performance-based revenue sharing, waiving development fees, and possibly providing financing for the convention center property and construction. He said the city will help with infrastructure needed for the property as well.
Kalahari was founded in May 2000 by the Nelson family. The company operates three resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Sandusky, Ohio; and the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.
Kalahari’s resorts sport an African theme throughout, including hand-crafted imported artwork; Rwandan coffee beans brewed in the cafes; and decorations throughout the property.
Kalahari Executive Vice President Bill Otto said Kalahari is a family-run business that places emphasis on being a good corporate citizen in the community.
“We’re going to offer a lot of jobs and a large tax base, but we’re going to do that in a responsible way to the neighborhoods and make sure we’re a good citizen of Round Rock,” Otto said. “At the end of the day the citizens of Round Rock are going to be very happy to have Kalahari in the community.”
Round Rock City Manager Laurie Hadley said from the city’s perspective, building Kalahari is the best use of the land because it will have less of an impact on the city’s roads, water infrastructure and schools than other potential projects. Hadley said a residential development or business park would add to rush-hour traffic, further taxing the roads. Assistant City Manager Brooks Bennett said visitors to a hotel are more likely to travel to the location outside of peak hours, such as weekends, late morning or early afternoon.
White said the location benefits from being almost in the middle of SH 130 and I-35, giving visitors easier access to the area as well.
Furthermore, Hadley said the water park will actually use less water than a residential development going into the same location.
“Folks come; they visit your city; they spend their money, which we greatly appreciate; then they go home,” Hadley said. “They aren’t putting a big strain on our infrastructure; they aren’t straining the roads, water or library. Anything that draws tourism or economic development in that form is a great use.”
Hadley said Kalahari will further complement the nearby Dell Diamond and Old Settlers Park, which together already draw more than 1 million visitors a year.
“It’s just a natural fit; [Hwy. 79] kind of becomes an entertainment corridor,” she said.
White said most business hubs have a large convention center presence.
“Now we’re becoming that business hub for Central Texas with this large convention center presence that will bring people from all over,” he said.
Round Rock Mayor Alan McGraw said the city had seen success with attracting traveling teams to play sports at Old Settlers Park, and officials were looking to the future for new ventures.
White said Round Rock and Williamson County did not have a destination hotel that attracts visitors from hours away for the sole purpose of staying at the hotel.
White said the chamber reached out to a few such resorts and in the course of chamber research found Kalahari.
“We kept researching them and fell in love with them,” White said.
Otto said the company had been looking to come to Texas because the state has the right demographics the company looks for.
Nelson said Kalahari looked throughout the state and came to Round Rock because of the growth and momentum the city is experiencing.
“Round Rock is on fire,” Nelson said. “It’s a wonderful place to do business.”
Otto said Round Rock attracted Kalahari because it was geographically central in the state, had I-35 nearby, and the company enjoyed working with city officials and leaders.
Otto said Round Rock is different than Kalahari’s other locations because its tourism industry is growing, whereas the other locations had been known as tourism destinations for a long time when Kalahari arrived.
“[Round Rock] has a great footprint and a great reputation as a tourist destination, but it continues to grow and it’s exciting for us to be a part of that,” Otto said.
White said bringing the project to Round Rock took collaboration among many city departments and other entities. He said it involved personnel from the Chamber; City Council; the city manager’s office; and the transportation, planning and zoning, utilities, finance, legal, police and fire departments.
“It’s been really special to be a part of a tremendous team and get to where we are today,” White said.
Kalahari resort offers games and activity areas.COURTESY KALAHARI RESORTS & CONVENTIONS
The plan includes about 150,000 square feet of convention and meeting space.COURTESY KALAHARI RESORTS & CONVENTIONS