By A.C. Hall
The community has been buzzing during the month of July as news broke about the probability of a Hawaiian Falls Waterpark coming to White Settlement and being built on the lot behind Veterans Park. Over the past week, citizens got their chance to address city leaders about the project. Many in the community packed the council chambers to capacity at a public hearing on Thursday night and again filled it at a town hall meeting on Saturday morning. While some concerns were expressed, the overall tone of the two events was overwhelmingly positive for the park project.
Before citizens began asking questions, they were first introduced to Hawaiian Falls and the people who run it. David Bush, President of Hawaiian Falls, spoke first, saying the company was excited and anxious to get started on the White Settlement location. Bush said this will be water park number 23 for him, and listed the many states and countries that he’s opened water parks in prior to this. He said all of those previous water parks are still in operation and successful, and expressed his belief that a White Settlement location would be successful as well.
“At this stage in life, at 62, I’m not about to do anything that’s not going to be a grand slam, and this is a grand slam,” Bush said.
Several videos were played showing different elements of the water parks and the year round adventure park which will be a part of the White Settlement deal. Following the videos, Bush spoke about the Christian values of his company, and the importance to them of using the water parks to promote family values.
“This is just a platform for us to bring families together,” Bush said.
Several others involved with the Hawaiian Falls company spoke. The company’s faith-based culture and their work with local community leaders and pastors was discussed as well as the efforts made to promote a good and positive environment for their employees.
Employment numbers given for the proposed Hawaiian Falls White Settlement location was 250 summer jobs and 100 employees at the year round adventure park. It’s expected that during the summer season the water park will bring in over 200,000 guests, with the year round adventure park expected to bring in around 100,000. Bush said that water park visitors spend around $20 million annually in the communities that house the parks.
Bush also gave a rundown of some of the other North Texas Hawaiian Falls water parks, with a focus on all the businesses and growth that have sprung up in the areas around the water parks. He was quick to say that obviously Hawaiian Falls wasn’t solely responsible for all the growth, but showed a large amount of restaurants and retail that have popped up all around the Hawaiian Falls locations in cities like Garland and The Colony.
The proposed deal of White Settlement taking out a $12 million bond for the construction of the park was called “revenue neutral” since Hawaiian Falls would be making the bond payments on the deal. It was also stated that if the park should close or fail, the entire park would become the property of White Settlement and they could either run it themselves or hire someone to come in and run it.
Questions from the audience came quickly, and those with Hawaiian Falls along with the city staff did their best to answer them all. Asked if underprivileged children and families that couldn’t afford the price of tickets would have a way to go to Hawaiian Falls, Bush said that they would. He said that 80,000 tickets were given away last year, and that they will partner with a local group to help identify and aid those who want to come to the park but can’t afford it.
The status of the dead end streets that will run up into the south of the water park was discussed. It was said they will remain as is, with an easement buffer zone remaining between the end of the neighborhoods and the Hawaiian Falls fence.
The impact of water park lighting on the nearby neighborhoods was also questioned. Hawaiian Falls stated they will be using special downward aimed lighting to alleviate any light pollution into the neighborhoods. Economic Development Director Jim Ryan also spoke about this, comparing the planned Hawaiian Falls lighting to the existing Veterans Park lights.
“The park lights you see now from the baseball fields are far more intrusive than anything that these people will bring to you,” Ryan said.
Asked about parking, representatives said there will be a new 350 space parking lot built behind Quik-Sak and Chicken Express for the main parking, and that Veterans Park may be used during some peak times at the water park.
When discussing water usage and safety issues, Hawaiian Falls said the park will use 10 million gallons of water per year, stating this is equal to what two baseball fields use. They also said they test their water every hour, which is above required testing standards.
A citizen voiced a concern that too much traffic will come down Las Vegas Trail to get to the park. A Hawaiian Falls official answered saying they’ll work to have billboards and signage along the highway to get as many people as possible to come all the way around to the Clifford exit to get to the park.
When asked it they were sure the proposed park would fit in the targeted area, Hawaiian Falls staff said they were. This will actually be their biggest park in North Texas, and the way in which they’ve fit smaller parks into much less acreage was highlighted.
A citizen concerned with noise asked how this will be addressed. A noise buffering fence will be put up between the water park and the neighborhood to the south. The early hours of the water park, which closes at 7 p.m. during the week and around 9 p.m. on the weekend was also brought up, as that would lessen the amount of noise going on in the evenings when people are trying to go to sleep.
Jim Ryan handled a concern about traffic. He said the city was working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to look at how to better manage traffic in this area.
“Our council is looking into these things to help traffic, not hurt traffic,” Ryan said.
Park officials stated that there is always a full time EMT at the park and that they won’t open unless one is there. Several staff members are also CPR certified, and the lack of deep water at the park was also mentioned as lessening the safety concerns.
In response to a discussion on property security, Hawaiian Falls staff said they don’t have many incidents, and encourage good behavior, conservative swimwear, and a positive environment. They stated they had around 10 incidents per year at each park, comparing that to around 90 per year that occur at most Wal-Mart locations.
When one citizen asked if there had been any commitments from new businesses to come into the city now that the Hawaiian Falls deal was on the horizon, a lengthy discussion about the economic impact of the water park got underway.
“Every square inch of property out there within the next few years will be at a premium,” Ryan said. “We’re poised to take the next big step.”
Ryan also said that combined with other new businesses in the city such as Flight Deck, Weir SPM, and the new ESC Region 11 building, this area is due for growth.
“White Settlement is going to be a destination point,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have restaurant rows crop up; we’re going to have a lot of things.”
Council member Danny Anderson also said that as soon as the deal is signed with Hawaiian Falls, the city will start heavily marketing it. He said that businesses are looking to expand, and this can be a place for them to come.
“We’re gonna try to get [businesses] on Clifford, White Settlement Road, and all these other streets, from 820 all the way up on the hill by Sunview, all the way down to Las Vegas Trail. [Everywhere] is an opportunity to build,” Anderson said.
When questioned about highway access to some of these areas, Anderson said they are working with TXDOT about trying to get some new ramps put in.
“We’ve got a lot of things going that haven’t been out in the public venue yet, but it’s all built to build this City back up to what it used to be and make it a better place like when I was a kid growing up,” Anderson said. “These folks (Hawaiian Falls) can help us do that. That’s why we’re asking for your support.”
Many citizens who support the project spoke, saying this is a great thing for the city. Some hailed it as a way to save White Settlement, while one local pastor said prior to hearing about Hawaiian Falls he had been considering moving his church out of the city. Representatives from the White Settlement Independent School District as well as the White Settlement Area Chamber of Commerce voiced their groups’ support of the project as well.
A citizen who lives along Clifford expressed concern that the increased traffic would make it even more difficult to get in and out of their driveway.
Another citizen questioned if the creek on the south border of Veteran’s Park was going to be incorporated into Hawaiian Falls. They were told the company was looking to incorporate and improve the creek, straightening it and possibly even creating some small pond areas along the length.
When discussing a time frame for the project, officials stated that the city and Hawaiian Falls have been talking for around six months, and they hope to have the deal in place in the next month. Hawaiian Falls is committed to having the park open for Memorial Day of next year. Asked if they could build that quickly, Bush said they could have the park built in as little as six months.
Anderson touched on the timeliness of the project, referencing some negative ads that have been running in newspapers and a possible petition that could push the project to a citizen vote later this year. Anderson said this can’t wait for a citizen vote, as Hawaiian Falls has to get started with construction soon or the deal won’t go through. He assured citizens that the city did all they could in the negotiations.
“Believe me, we’ve got the very best deal we could get,” Anderson said.
Councilman Anderson implored citizens to get behind the project, to tell their neighbors about it, and to write letters to the local papers voicing their support. One citizen asked if the $12 million bond the city takes out for Hawaiian Falls would hurt their ability to secure other bonds if the need should arise. They were told that it will have no impact on the city’s ability to issue more debt should the need arise.
The possibility of flooding issues was raised by another citizen, but they were told that Hawaiian Falls would be “better than water neutral” thanks to the way they plan to straighten the creek and have pond retention areas built into it.
Another citizen questioned the life expectancy of the park. The initial lease on the park is for forty years, with options for further years built in. Bush told the individual that a water park they built in 1982 is still going strong today. It was mentioned several times by members of the city council and staff that this deal with Hawaiian Falls will put White Settlement on the map and help bring the city back to where it needs to be. Mayor Jerry Burns also shared his feelings on the project and the way it’s brought the city council together.
“This is the first time in my history that I can remember that the council has stood arm in arm and looked at each other and said ‘this has to happen,’” Burns said. He also spoke about the need to take a chance when it comes to helping the City. “Sometimes in life you have to take a leap of faith. I think we’re coming to that crossroads,” Burns said.
The deal between Hawaiian Falls and the City of White Settlement was said to be “in the hands of the lawyers.” The hopes expressed were that it will be finalized sometime in September with construction starting soon after that.