New Owners Jump Into Wild River Country With Big Plans

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

“We want to come in and be known as the new Wild River Country,” said Chris Shillcutt, vice president of operations at the water park. (Photo by Mark Friedman)

After years spent sailing choppy financial waters that included a trip to bankruptcy court, Wild River Country in North Little Rock looks to right itself with new owners who promise to pump money into the 28-year-old water park.

Aquapark Holdings LLC of North Little Rock, which is owned by Mort Fishman of Palm Beach Garden, Fla., and Michael Slattery of Toronto, in November bought Wild River from Canadian Hugh Hall’s Halcyon Attractions of Arkansas LLC. Real estate records indicate the purchase price was at least $5.4 million.

“When guests come to the park, they’re going to see immediately things we’ve done,” said Chris Shillcutt, vice president of operations for Aquapark. “All of our slides are going to be new. They’re going to be completely refurbished.”

At least $1 million will be spent on upgrades at the 29.4-acre water park for the upcoming season, which runs May 18 until Labor Day, said Shillcutt, 49, who worked as a lifeguard at the park when it first opened.

The ownership move comes at the right time for Wild River. Traffic at North American water parks reached an estimated 85 million people in 2012, which was up 3.66 percent from 2011, according to the World Waterpark Association. In 2010, 79 million people attended a water park, which includes all municipal and private water parks.

“With the increased popularity of staycations, long weekends and family getaways and get-togethers, waterpark demand continues to grow,” David J. Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors of Cleveland wrote in his report, “Waterpark Resorts Supply & Demand 2013 Update.”

‘Treading Water’

It is unclear how many visitors Wild River had in recent years, Shillcutt said, but the number appears to have been declining. Food and nonalcoholic sales fell 8.4 percent to $515,584 between May and August 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, according to records at the North Little Rock Advertising & Promotion Commission.

After arriving at the park in January, Shillcutt scratched his head over some of the decisions made by the former managers, Reve Management LLC of Little Rock. One example: It didn’t repair the water park’s electronic sign, which is visible from Interstate 430.

“I mean, that’s a no-brainer” to get it fixed, Shillcutt said. “Most business people would not operate that way.”

Reve Management had managed the park since 2010, said Tina Hatcher, a public relations agent in Florida who is working for Aquapark.

“The previous management company did not have any experience in working with or operating other water parks, nor did they have a financial incentive to make the necessary investments required to maintain and upgrade the park,” she said in a January email to Arkansas Business.



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