Now in its 11th year, Splash in the Boro continues to be an extremely popular attraction for Bulloch County and a source of fun for families.
Even in 2013, when a rainy summer contributed to a decline in attendance, Splash still drew more than 120,000 visits in fewer than 90 days of summer operation.
But with increased competition on the horizon, the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department is striving to keep the publicly owned water park fresh, said Steve Brown, the department's aquatics division manager. A commercial water park is under development in Pooler, and there is speculation about another park in the Savannah area.
"Definitely we want to stay ahead of the curve and we want to provide a service to our guests, something that's operated well enough and that makes them feel safe enough they want to keep coming back," Brown said. "We also want to have those attractions, have those features that definitely attract our target market."
Splash's target groups are families with young children first and teenagers second.
No immediate expansion is planned. Until the park puts two years of reduced attendance behind it, the focus is on taking care of the little things, "which might be repainting a feature, adding some more shade structures and things like that," Brown said.
But options are on the drawing board for another major expansion within a few years. Construction will move forward in 2016 at the earliest, he said.
The options were developed for the Parks and Recreation Department by aquatics designer Scot Hunsaker and engineering consultant David Markey, with a feasibility study concluded in spring 2012.
The favored option, Brown said, is a $5.08 million plan that would include both a wave pool as a big new attraction and a new entrance building for the water park.
Measuring 17,500 square feet, the pool would generate wave action that could be adjusted to different heights. It would be open to guests age 8 and older and could accommodate 775 people, increasing the park's capacity from the current 2,100 people to about 2,875 at a time.
The proposed new entrance would handle the added flow of people and include a new gift shop. The current building would still serve as an exit, be used for administrative offices, and provide a second entrance during peak times.
Another option considered is a $3.76 million lagoon with a play feature of waterslides and interactive elements with a capacity of 300 additional guests in the 3-12 age range. But the discussion is of building either the lagoon or the wave pool, not both.
As it stands, Splash in the Boro represents a capital investment of about $10 million. It occupies five acres, plus three acres of parking.
The original 2004 construction cost $5.4 million, including Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue. When it opened, the park included the competition and therapy pool, the Lazy River, the trio of tower slides, the leisure pool with Lilly Pads and the play pool with dump bucket.
An expansion in 2009 cost $4.2 million, including borrowed money. This revamped the front entrance and added Flow Rider, Mat Racer and the Spray Pad and Tot Slides pool, as well as a second concession stand and a row of rental cabanas.
In 2009, the Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development at Georgia Southern University calculated that Splash in the Boro adds $9 million to Bulloch County's annual gross economic output. The park creates more than 200 seasonal jobs, mostly for college and high school students.
2010 peak crowd
From an early peak of 111,400 guests in 2006, attendance surged to 154,000 when the new attractions opened in 2009.
Thus far, 2010 has been Splash's top attendance year. But the 168,700 visitors that summer strained the park's resources.
"Our goal is to be able to provide a great service to our guests, and in 2010 our attendance was to the point where we were having trouble providing that service," Brown said. "The park was very crowded at times, and we actually had guests telling us we should charge more."
So the department raised the daily price from the previous $8 to $10 for Bulloch County adults and $12 for adult nonresidents. Attendance moderated to 148,500 visits that summer, in the target area around 150,000 that Brown would like to maintain.
However, attendance continued to decline, to 131,000 in 2012 and 121,000 in 2013. For this, he believes, weather and the economy are mainly to blame.
And Brown is hoping for a change in the weather.
"So hopefully once we get into the get into the summer and this front gets out of here this week we'll have some time where we enjoy some hot, dry days," he said.
Through most of its life thus far, Splash in the Boro has more than paid its own way. In 2011, its revenues were $2,233,470, exceeding expenses by $359,798. In 2012, the water park netted more than $525,000 from revenue of $2,063,459.
However, the off season in 2013, combined with servicing debt on the 2009 expansion, produced a $42,000 operating loss, with revenue of $1,989,698 against expenses of $2,031,716. The park was able to pull from its reserve and still reimbursed the county for some of its services, Brown said.
"We have not had to burden the taxpayers, as far as operating costs go, since we opened the park, and that's a good thing," he said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.