By Jonathon Gutierrez
Developers are proceeding with plans to build a $75 million water theme park between Homestead and Florida City despite skepticism by investors about the type of municipal bonds being proposed to finance the project. The attraction, proposed in 1999, would create a 150-acre park at the end of the Florida Turnpike. Developer Whitewater West Industries of Vancouver, BC, has developed rides and theme parks around the world, including Walt Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon and Universal's Island of Adventure.
The park would feature three separate gated areas. A family entertainment center would feature a video arcade, miniature golf, go-carts and batting cages. The water park section would include a 4- to 6-foot-deep wave pool, a continuously flowing river ride, kiddy pools, water slides and a water-play area with a tree-house theme.
The park would also feature an amusement park with a 100-foot-high swing coaster, a 600-foot-long rapid rafting ride and a proposed 2,700-foot-long looping wooden coaster.
America On Rides Inc., a subsidiary of Whitewater West, planned to break ground last year. But developers said they were forced to delay following bonding problems. Florida City issued the company $75 million in tax-free industrial revenue bonds. But investors in the project were not interested in the unrated bonds, according to Alan Heuss, vice president of Whitewater West and president of America On Rides.
"We found that an unrated industrial revenue bond is unsaleable," Mr. Heuss said. "Nobody wants to buy an unrated bond today."
He said the company is looking to get Miami-Dade County involved and also at putting money in a trust account or taking out insurance to support the bonds.
He said the company had raised about $50 million in funds based on the original budget for the project. If the company is unable to resolve bond problems, it will fall back on that original budget, Mr. Heuss said.
He said he is expecting to resolve the issues within 30 days and proceed with the $75 million plan. After the bond issue is resolved, Mr. Heuss said, the company could begin construction, which should take 16 to 18 months.
"I know there have been a number of negative rumors in the community about the project, just because it took so long," Mr. Heuss said. "Not everyone knows how hard it is to pull off such a specialized project. There are only one or two theme parks built every five years. It's much harder than building a shopping mall."