by Scott Thomas / Community Impact News
The city of Round Rock announced June 15 it is working with a company 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 Resorts & Conventions is a family resort company. The Round Rock location will feature up to 1,000 guest rooms, indoor and outdoor water parks, and a convention center. The development will also include additional entertainment, recreation and other mixed uses on 334 acres on Hwy. 79 across from the Dell Diamond and Old Settlers Park, according to city documents. The resort is expected to create approximately 700 full-time and part-time jobs, and the business will invest at least $250 million in the project. City officials said they are working on a memorandum of understanding that will include a clause to start construction within 36 months, and they estimate construction to last approximately two years.
“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 is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding at its 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. The deal is still underway to clarify what incentives the city will offer, but White said it 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, and operates three existing resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Sandusky, Ohio; and Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. The city and company are still working on the details of what the Round Rock location will entail, but Bill Otto, Kalahari executive vice president, said they are confident the location will include upward of 1,000 guest rooms, feature indoor and outdoor water parks complexes, convention space, restaurants, cocktail lounges, spas and a family entertainment section featuring rides and attractions such as games and go-karts.
Otto said the best comparison to an existing Kalahari facility would be the Pocono Mountains location after if finishes currently ongoing renovations. Once complete, the Pocono Mountains location will feature a 200,000-square-foot indoor water park, six restaurants, and 100,000 square feet of convention space. The location also features an outdoor water park with a pool, sundeck, whirlpools and swim-up bar.
Kalahari’s resorts sport an African theme throughout, including hand-crafted artwork on convention walls, Rwandan coffee beans brewed in the cafes and decorations in restaurants, hallways, the water park and more.
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.”
Highest and best use
Round Rock City Manager Laurie Hadley said from the city’s perspective, this is the best use of the land because it will have less of an impact on the city’s roads, water infrastructure and schools compared with other uses.
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 mornings or early afternoons.
Furthermore, Hadley said the water park will actually use less water than a residential development going into the same location.
Hadley said Kalahari will also help attract tourism, which she described as “the purest form of economic development.”
“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.”
White said all 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.
White said the economic impact will start right when the business starts construction, by hiring hundreds of construction workers.