Fifteen Years on the Edge: Hyland Hills Water World

Article excerpt

Hyland Hills Water World, located in Federal Heights, CO, proudly celebrated its 15th anniversary this summer. In 1993 Water World became the largest family water park in North America, with 27 attractions on more than 50 acres including Calypso Cove, containing the biggest interactive water structure in America, and the truly incredible Voyage to the Center of the Earth, a $2 million, 1,600-foot "dark" family tube ride complete with animated dinosaurs and sea monsters. From its humble beginning in 1978, Water World has been and remains on the edge of creativity, technology, unpredictability and, on occasion, controversy.

Water World is owned and operated by Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District. Officially known as "a quasimunicipal corporation and governmental subdivision of the State of Colorado," Hyland Hills was organized in 1955 as the first park and recreation district in Colorado. The main source of revenue in the district's early days of operation came from property taxes with supplements from user fees. By the mid 1970s, more than 50 percent of the budget of Hyland Hills came from property taxes-growth of which was severely limited both by statute and public opinion. If Hyland Hills was to continue to provide quality recreation programs and facilities in the face of increasing inflationary costs, revenues from alternative sources were a necessity.

The board of directors and staff of Hyland Hills began to search for alternative revenue sources that would also provide family-oriented, quality recreation for its residents. With a mixture of imagination and gamblers' optimism, the district proposed constructing a wave pool and water slide on undeveloped property owned by the district in the Town of Federal Heights, a small suburb of Denver. Construction was to be financed from the proceeds of a general obligation bond issue requiring voter approval. After much hard work by area residents, a bond issue in the total amount of $2.75 million was approved, of which $1.3 million went to the construction of an 18,000-square foot wave pool and two 400-foot water slides. The two water slides opened in August of 1979 and the wave pool opened the following summer.

From the outset, Water World was a success. Charging 25 cents each or five for a dollar for a ride down the two water slides, revenues generated in the first month of operation were sufficient to cover expenses. In its first full summer of operation (Water World's season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day), Water World generated more than $500,000 in gross revenues and a surplus of general operating revenues over expenses of 8195,000. Water World accounted for 17.5 percent of total district expenditures and 28 percent of total district revenues.

Property taxes as a percentage of total revenues had decreased from 54 percent in 1979 to just 25.5 percent in 1980. The plan was working!

Since its beginning in 1979, Water World has generated revenues of more than $40 million dollars. Nearly four million people have been guests at the park. In 1992, Water World reported gross revenues of $4.8 million with general operating expenditures of $2.75 million (exclusive of debt service). This translated to 40 percent of total district revenues and 24 percent of total district expenditures. Property taxes accounted for only 13.5 percent of total district revenues. Water World revenues have been used to subsidize more traditional recreational activities such as youth care programs, senior activities and athletics-programs the district would have much difficulty in offering at an affordable price without such subsidies. If this sounds like the answer to every governmental entity's prayer for the proverbial cash cow--an easy way to subsidize limited budgets--hold that thought as we explore some of those interesting "edges" you may encounter.

Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District owns and operates: an indoor ice arena; a 54-hole miniature golf course; a golf course including 27 regulation holes, two par 3 courses and all the usual amenities; three outdoor pools; 22 parks; three community buildings and numerous sports fields serving a population of over 89,000. …