By Annie Kinniburgh
The Fredericksburg City Council voted to pass a letter of intent this Tuesday allowing the city to negotiate a contract to bring the Kalahari Resorts water-park and hotel complex to Fredericksburg in late 2009.
The Fredericksburg location on the Celebrate Virginia site would become the third Kalahari Resorts branch in the United States, joining parks in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, and Sandusky, Ohio, according to the company’s website. It marks the debut of the Kalahari Resorts franchise on the East Coast.
The African-themed resort would feature an indoor water park, conference center, spa, and a variety of restaurants, among other amenities, according to the website.
Kalahari Resorts plans to invest $200 million in the Fredericksburg area, with a projection of a million visitors a year, according to a press release issued by Kalahari Resorts.
Fredericksburg citizens came out 3 to 1 in favor of Kalahari in a public meeting held Jan. 15, according to the Free-Lance Star.
“Basically, everyone is in support of Kalahari,” said UMW senior Adam Holofcener, an English and Music major. He attended the meeting in support of the Fredericksburg Athenaeum, which works to support arts in the community. “Fredericksburg is poor, and if everything goes according to plan, Kalahari would make a lot of money.” “Right now Fredericksburg is a bad place to work,” said Fredericksburg resident Calvin Roberts. “Kalahari will bring in more jobs and theoretically more money to the lower classes of Fredericksburg.”
In 2004, the percent of Fredericksburg residents living below the poverty line was 14.4 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The Kalahari complex is projected to create 1907 new jobs, according to a press release by the Silver Companies, which owns and manages Central Park.
Despite apparently wide-spread support for the plan, many residents of downtown Fredericksburg’s historical district seem against or hesitant of Kalahari’s arrival.
Out of 161 residents who responded to a public opinion poll held at Riverby Books, a used bookstore on Caroline Street, only 16 percent said that they would “definitely” visit the water park.
Woody Wilkening, owner of the Collector’s Den antique shop on Caroline Street, questioned the impact of the park on local traffic. “The city will get a nice piece of revenue, but I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “This is a small community and the park would bring in too much traffic. We don’t need it.”
UMW student Adam Holofcener questioned the environmental feasibility of the plan. “I know Fredericksburg’s economy relies on tourism and this is a tourist attraction, but it is environmentally unsound. We do not have enough water for a water park.”
According to news source Fredericksburg.com, Kalahari has stated that it will use 260,000 gallons of water a day, but that it will practice water conservation measures. The Fredericksburg City Council stated at a public meeting Nov. 27 that it has sufficient water treatment facilities at Motts Run Plant to accommodate the expected daily usage of the resort.
Many residents are contrasting the image of Kalahari with Fredericksburg’s current image as a sedate, historical tourist town.
“We have tourists already,” said resident Calvin Roberts, “but Kalahari would bring a completely different breed of tourism than what we have now. Is it going to turn us into Colonial Williamsburg and make us all about our theme parks and kitschy tourists? I don’t know.”
“Basically, it’s tacky,” said Holofcener. “At least Fredericksburg’s Civil War attractions are educational.”
Roberts attributed the discrepancy between the result of the public meeting and the opinions of individual residents to financial differences.
“The people who want the water park are the people with money,” he said. “They want to bring more money into Fredericksburg, while other residents like the town the way it is. They don’t want to take away from or change the character of downtown.”
However, some say that Kalahari would actually help downtown Fredericksburg. Michael Whitehead, President of Downtown Retail Marketing Inc., which represents downtown businesses, spoke at the Jan. 15 public meeting.
“Our region’s original town center has strong, lasting identity and is already a successful tourist destination and significant revenue generator for the City,” he said, describing downtown Fredericksburg as an “economic engine with huge potential…but simply needs a little fuel.”
Officials in favor of the resort emphasize that it will add to Fredericksburg’s appeal. In a press release on Nov. 16, City Manager Philip L. Rodenburg quoted Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as saying, “Resorts of this caliber, combined with our history, heritage, and cultural destinations, help make Virginia a top tourism destination.”
The city will now work out a performance agreement with Kalahari, which will be received at the City Council meeting on March 11, according to the Free-Lance Star.