Water park now in the hands of the City

A view of the water park shows slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, a zipline and other park attractions that will be taken over by the City.
A view of the water park shows slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, a zipline and other park attractions that will be taken over by the City.

by A.C. Hall

It’s been over a week since White Settlement Mayor Ronald A. White announced the City’s intention to terminate their lease agreement with Hawaiian Falls over unpaid lease payments.  In that time, both the City and Hawaiian Falls have sounded off on the issue.
Late last week the City sent out a press release and in it referenced the change of ownership at Hawaiian Falls that occurred in May 2015.  The release said the city had previously hoped that new ownership would mean delinquent payments would be made up and all future payments would happen on time.  This clearly hasn’t happened, as the press release goes on to state that Hawaiian Falls owes the City in excess of $900,000 in past due lease payments.
In addition to the amount already owed to the City, the press release paints a bleak picture of ever receiving the money as it goes on to describe discussions with Hawaiian Falls parent company, Source Capital.
“The representative of Source Capital, Mr. Ben Emmons, has advised the City that the delinquent lease payments will not be paid anytime in the near future, and that future lease payments may not be paid,” City Manager Jim Ryan wrote in the press release.
When this newspaper reached out to Hawaiian Falls for a comment on this situation, they provided a statement.
“Hawaiian Falls is deeply disappointed that the City of White Settlement rejected our good faith proposal to operate the City’s municipal water park system for the coming season,” Hawaiian Falls spokesperson David Alvey said in the statement.
The statement goes on to detail that proposal, saying that Hawaiian Falls offered to run the park for the upcoming summer season and send any profits to the city.
“We are astonished that a proposal that would cost the city zero dollars and ensure them of a timeline to evaluate the future plans for the park was rejected,” said Clint Hill, Hawaiian Falls CEO and President. “Our proposal ensured the park would be open for the entirety of the 2016 season (Memorial Day weekend thru Labor Day) and that any operating losses would be incurred solely by Hawaiian Falls.”
The statement continues to outline Hawaiian Falls’ good faith intentions to work with the city on a long term resolution to operate and grow the park.  Despite their stated intentions to continue the relationship, any chance of a continued partnership between the City and Hawaiian Falls seems completely gone.  Hawaiian Falls has already removed the White Settlement location from their website and White Settlement City Manager Jim Ryan indicated to The Grizzly Detail that the City will take possession of the park within days.
This leaves residents questioning the future of the water park that the city spent $12 million dollars constructing.  No official plans have been announced, but Council members Dave Mann and Steve Ott took to social media this past week to answer residents concerns over the future of the water park.
“As of right now, the park has not been maintained and is not safe to open yet,” Mann wrote on Facebook.  “I, as well as the other council members, plan on getting it opened and in good working order for our citizens.”
Also on Facebook, Ott gave a more detailed response to what’s happening and what the future may hold for the water park.
“The City is planning on running the park. When it will open will be determined by how much work must be done at the park to make it safe.  And no, taxes will not go up because of this!  It is public knowledge (has been printed in newspapers), that HF (actually Source Horizons/Source Capital who bought out HF) is behind in their lease payments to the City. The amount they are behind is quite substantial. Council and City staff has had numerous discussions, phone calls, meetings with them in order to resolve this. However, they did not want to agree with us. We gave them every opportunity, and they basically told us ‘tough, take it or leave it.’  This Council will not allow anyone to screw this City, and so, told them goodbye,” Ott wrote on Facebook.
In response to one resident, Ott offered a few additional thoughts on what the park would be like under City control.
“Yes, the safety of the park will be better.  And if I have my way, the prices will definitely come down,” Ott wrote.
The comments of these two council members mirror previous views expressed by city officials regarding the City’s plan to operate the water park should the lease with Hawaiian Falls ever be terminated.
City Manager Jim Ryan spoke with The Grizzly Detail on Monday, saying that there is a planned budget amendment discussion for the May 10 council meeting to bring forth an operation plan before the council.  He stated that to do something like hire hundreds of people to run a water park requires council authorization, something he doesn’t have yet.  Ryan did offer a small insight into what he believes the city could bring to the water park if they are running it.
“Better and longer hours, better food, and better service,” Ryan said.
The plan for the City to operate the water park themselves may not be official yet, but it appears to be the direction White Settlement is moving toward.  At least one reason why the City didn’t accept Hawaiian Falls’ proposal to run the park for another year seems to be the feeling among City leadership that the park wasn’t being run properly, with things like park safety, prices, and hours of operation being mentioned as problem areas.  Another reason is likely based around the idea of Hawaiian Falls sending profits made during the 2016 season to the City.  Hawaiian Falls confirmed in their own statement that the park has operated at a loss since opening in 2014, making it unclear if the park would even have any profits to send to the City during the 2016 season.
The termination of the lease agreement with Hawaiian Falls effects many people.  Hiring was already well underway for the White Settlement location, and many of those who were hired have reported being contacted and told they no longer have a job.  On Monday, Hawaiian Falls sent an email to employees, confirming the closure of the White Settlement location while telling those who wish to still work with the company to contact them about positions at other Hawaiian Falls locations.  It goes on to say that the goal is for anyone who was hired for the White Settlement location and wants to work at another location to be placed in a position.
The email also stated that “due to legal obligations we are unable to offer refunds at this time for lifeguard classes or uniforms. Someone will be in touch when we have more clarity on this situation for you.”
City Manager Ryan also spoke briefly about all those who were hired to work at Hawaiian Falls and have since been let go, suggesting they’d have a good chance to work at the water park once the city opens it.
“If they’ve been hired once, chances are they’ll be hired again,” Ryan said.
As for those who already purchased season passes or group tickets for the White Settlement Hawaiian Falls, CEO Clint Hill said that groups and season passholders will have full privileges at each of Hawaiian Falls’ six other Texas water park locations.
“Although we hoped for a different outcome, we are committed to our employees, season passholders and groups,” said Hill.
The closure of Hawaiian Falls’ White Settlement location comes after just two years of operation.  Problems arose early on with construction lasting much longer than expected, leading to a late opening season.  The much promoted year-round adventure park at Hawaiian Falls was also closed quickly, instead remaining seasonal along with the water park.  Then came the first reports of unpaid lease payments after just the first year of operation at the park.
Hawaiian Falls has had some similar issues at another of it’s locations.  In November, the Community Impact Newspaper reported that Hawaiian Falls missed a lease payment on their Pflugerville location.  This location was built at the same time as the White Settlement location.  However, unlike their situation in White Settlement, the company has since caught up on all missed payments in Pflugerville.