JEFF HYMAN AT COOPERSTOWN FUN PARK
Developer, Visiting Prospective Site,
Says Market Study Guarantees Success
By JIM KEVLIN • for www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – It’s going to be big, but not as big as the maximum build-out in the Hotel & Leisure Advisors market study.
H&LA’s report, released on Wednesday, estimated a year-’round waterpark development planned in Hartwick Seminary could fill 400 rooms. Jeff Hyman is planning 200 rooms, the principal of Hyman Hemispheric, the development firm, said in an interview and on-site tour this afternoon.
H&LA concluded the market can support an 80,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. For now, Hyman is planning 30,000-35,000 square feet, about the size of Six Flag’s operation near Lake George. (Because of Dreams Park’s seasonal demand, another 5-8 acres of water park is planned outdoors.)
So the H&LA estimated $1 billion of economic impact on the county over the next 10 years, and $16 million in annual taxes, will be somewhat less. But Hyman estimates the impact will be greater than the proportionate size, since the initial development will be more profitable than the potential build out.
The 800 jobs in the H&LA report will be more like 200 FTEs (full-time equivalent jobs), still “a meaningful job impact,” Hyman said. He was joined in the interview by Bob Hickey, son of the original Cooperstown Fun Park owner, which will provide 44 acres to the prospective development. (Hickey said the Fun Park will be in business this summer.)
The H&LA report “tells me we have a margin of error,” said Hyman, who, while associated with Guggenheim Securities, was involved in financing waterparks throughout the Northeast and beyond. “The market is that strong,” is how he characterized H&LA’s projections. “The top revenues could be that high.”
Another advantage of the smaller-scale development is that it would be “less overwhelming the community,” he added. And there would be room to grow.
The prospective waterpark development has been the talk of the Route 28 corridor since last October, when it was mentioned in a paragraph on page 9 on the region’s MV500 grant application, seeking a $1/2 billion from Governor Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
While the six-county region that includes Otsego didn’t get the $1/2 billion when allocations were announced in December, Otsego Now, the county’s “single point of contact” for economic development, then collaborated with Hyman in commissioning the study by H&LA, a Cleveland-based firm considered the foremost consultant nationally in leisure-related development.
The indoor-waterpark boom, as Hyman tells it, began in the late 1980s in Wisconsin Dells, a tourism-magnet in Wisconsin that was seeking ways to attract visitors in the off-season. Construction began in the 1990s, and today there are a half-dozen huge waterparks there. Since, clusters have also developed around Sandusky, Ohio, and in the Poconos.
Because of his involvement in waterpark financing, Hyman has seen the numbers on a range of projects and says the local numbers are outstanding. “A lot of people are telling me a lot of dollars are left on the table here every summer,” he added.
One intriguing chart in the H&LA report shows 6.5 million homes within 180 miles of Wisconsin Dells, compared to 10.2 million for Sandusky, and 14 million for Cooperstown. Yet while there are 1.2 million square feet of waterpark with 180 square miles of Wisconsin Dells and 681,000 around Sandusky, there are only 542,500 within the tourism impoundment area around Cooperstown.
“This market is woefully under-served by waterparks,” said Hyman. While summertime success is assured, experience elsewhere shows waterparks are also packed on three-day weekends throughout the year and during school vacations. “The February school vacation was as high as summer,” he said of a similar facility.
Cooperstown, both the brand and the existing tourism magnet, made this project particularly attractive, and cross promotions are anticipated with the Baseball Hall of Fame, Brewery Ommegang, the opera, the museums and other attractions.
“That’s what’s going to keep them coming back. That’s what they’ll be talking about to their neighbors in New Jersey,” said the developer, the father of two children in their prime waterpark years.
Even the most enthusiastic waterpark-goers are ready to do something else after a couple of days, he said. Plus, the waterpark can tempt tourists to stay another day.
Parts of the H&LA report made the local development sound like a competitor with The Otesaga for weddings and conventions, but – particularly in the scaled-down initial version – it aims to appeal to a different target market – a cheerleaders’ convention rather than the state School Boards Association, the developer said.
The Town of Hartwick doesn’t have zoning, so that should expedite the development. A site plan and building permit would be required locally, and Hyman Hemispheric has already begun working on the SEQRA process and state traffic permits that would be required.
The property is right across Route 28 from Council Rock Brewery and the Pit Stop. Behind the current Fun Park building, the land slopes up to a knoll that give a 360-degree view of the area. It then slopes down toward the Susquehanna, which borders the back of the property.
The Cooperstown Fun Park site has four potential points of “ingress and egress,” said Hyman, which would reduce impacts. Also, “this is nothing like the 10 o’clock game at Dreams Park,” he said. “It’s a come and go process throughout the day.” And, if traffic counts required it, a traffic signal could be installed on Route 28.
As for the water itself, the developer anticipates most would come from a “huge aquifer” under the property. The water needed to run a waterpark is drawn, then recycled, Hyman said.
Hyman was raised in Avon, Conn., went to college in the Midwest, and spent much of his early career in California.
Now living in Vorheesville, outside Albany, he was among the competitors last year for one of the state licenses to build a casino. Due to brownfields challenges, however, he withdrew his application for a site in Binghamton.
He also worked on the concept for a waterpark at Howe’s Caverns in Schoharie County.
Before the 2008 economic dip, he had been collaborating with Otsego Now President Sandy Mathes, then Greene County developer, on a Great Wolf Lodge waterpark on the New Baltimore exit of the New York State Thruway, south of Albany, and the men made contact again after Mathes joined the Otsego economic-development effort.
Hyman said he isn’t sure whether this park will be affiliated with Grey Wolf, Kalahari or other large waterpark chains, particularly because some limit use of the slides to overnight guests. The Hartwick Seminary facility would also have day passes available for local people.
By the way, boys and girls of all ages, the waterpark will also feature a 20,000-square-foot “family entertainment center,” which Hyman described as “an arcade on steroids.”