Parrot Island Waterpark managers ask Fort Smith, Sebastian County for $1.5 million expansion

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 1,140 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors and Sebastian County Quorum Court will soon consider the possibility of expanding Parrot Island Waterpark facilities with a two-slide expansion at a cost of around $1.5 million.

The 14-month project, if approved by the two boards, would be paid for in part by Parrot Island Waterpark reserve funds totaling around $250,000. The remainder (approximately $1.25 million) would require allocations from the two governments, an expenditure likely to raise eyebrows following the park’s costlier than expected track record.

The facility was approved by voters as part of an inter-local agreement between the city of Fort Smith and Sebastian County on the pitch that it would be an $8 million facility. By the time it opened around Memorial Day 2015, the figure had risen to $12 million. Both government bodies split construction costs, which will not be reimbursed through profits. It is unlikely the $1.25 million portion of a hypothetical expansion would be either considering the thin profit margins keeping the facility in the black.

However, as noted by Rick Coleman of American Resort Management (ARM), the management company operating the facility, the park is reaching a point where it will have to expand if it expects to continue growing community interest.

Both boards voted unanimously to take up the matter for future discussion, not deciding anything at Thursday night’s (Oct. 5) annual joint session budget review. However, they definitively agreed to extend ARM’s management by five years. Part of the expansion mentioned Thursday — “Boomerango” — can be viewed in action at this link.

For the latest operating season, the park bounced back from its “sophomore slump” of 2016 with 102,861 visitors, up 3.77% from 99,127 last year. But it remains off by about 8% from inaugural year (2015) figures of 111,763. However, the increase from 2016 to 2017 is significant in that the park managed an improvement in spite of having more weather days (26 in 2017 vs. 21 in 2016) and fewer operating days (96 in 2017 vs. 97 in 2016). These obstacles might also explain why the park fell short of year one numbers as 2015 had nine more operating days (105) and less than half the weather days (11). If one were to extrapolate the per-day averages, then 2017 would have welcomed more guests per day than 2015 had it enjoyed the same number of operating days (112,455 against 111,763).

Ratings remain high for the facility with 86% overall satisfaction, according to online and in-park surveys, and a 4.5 out of 5 rating and No. 5 of 24 attractions on TripAdvisor. It also nets a 4.1 of 5 rating on Google.

Financially, ARM was able to cut enough in expenses to keep the lower than expected revenues above board. The park pulled in $1.234 million against expenses of $1.105 million, ending with a net operating income of $129,716. The performance was a slight improvement from 2016’s $1.222 million revenues against $1.129 million expenses for a NOI of $92,571. With the 2018 proposed operating budget, ARM is expecting $1.572 million in revenue and $1.386 million in expenses for a NOI of $186,339.

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