The Epic Journey

By Mark Massimino

What Grand Prairie, Texas, is accomplishing is a legacy in the making.

This year, the city will open three new community staples that will change the way residents—and the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex—play, relax, and revitalize, as “EpicCentral” approaches the end stages of its development. These include Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark, The Epic recreation and lifestyle center, and PlayGrand Adventures, an all-inclusive playground.

In 2013, after residents elected Mayor Ron Jenson, he gazed at a 100-plus-acre piece of land in the city and envisioned its potential. The city had begun developing the area in 2010 when it erected The Summit, a state-of-the-art facility designed specifically for active adults ages 50 and older. In 2014, Jenson went to taxpayers with a plan to create the rest of EpicCentral. Residents approved an additional sales tax that would fund what city officials now tout as a “cruise ship on land.”

Parks, Arts, & Recreation legend Dr. John Crompton said of the development in Grand Prairie, “The project that we’re witnessing today is in my experience unprecedented among cities of the size of Grand Prairie in America. It is a legacy project.”

The 80,000-plus-square-foot Epic Waters anchors the complex, transforming Grand Prairie into an amusement destination for Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond.

The Dream Team
With funding for the project in place and the support of all of Grand Prairie, the city’s parks and recreation department began researching, touring waterparks nationwide, and piecing together the “dream team” that would make Epic Waters a reality. Members’ travels eventually led them to Darryl Matzke of Ramaker and Associates, an architecture and engineering firm. From there, they were introduced to Canadian-based OpenAire, whose specialty lies in designing, manufacturing, and installing custom, maintenance-free, retractable-roof structures for aquatic centers and other venues. Members visited a venue that showcased a retractable-roof system over an indoor waterpark, immediately fell in love with it, and knew that it would be a perfect fit for Epic Waters. Finally, the city engaged Rick Coleman of American Resort Management in their search for a partner who could continue to plan the layout of the buildings and create fantastic guest experiences.

“It’s so critical to make sure you assemble an experienced design and development team, and be prepared to listen to their advice and ideas,” says Coleman, Principal and Vice President of Development and Operations for American Resort Management, the waterpark’s management company.

To create that sought-after guest experience, the “dream team” put their heads together to hammer out the details of what would make Epic Waters a 365-day destination for people around the country.

The Structure
The building that houses the waterpark is a huge element of what makes Epic Waters so unique, marketable, and comfortable for guests. A problem for many indoor waterparks is that they lack natural elements. There may be palm trees and flowers, but it’s difficult to not feel as though you are cooped up in a warehouse. At Epic Waters, thick, weather-resistant, glass-panel walls fuse the indoor, year-round protection from the elements that an indoor waterpark provides with natural light and scenery, eliminating any confining feeling. Furthermore, when the roof opens on the many warm and sunny days Texans are accustomed to, guests will be greeted with a literal breath of fresh air as they enter the waterpark. This marrying of indoor and outdoor elements is a major key to what will keep Epic Waters—the largest indoor waterpark under a single, custom, retractable-roof structure in America—interesting and exciting, rain or shine, every day of the year.

In addition to making perfect sense for the guest experience, the structure also makes good business sense. It cuts energy costs just about everywhere. Operable enclosures reduce the need for air conditioning, dehumidification systems, and provide energy savings of up to 27 percent over traditional construction methods, creating tremendous long-term value. And by creating a structure with weather-resistant glass panels and rust-proof aluminum, the building will look just as good decades from now as it did the day it opened.

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The Programming
The thought process behind the attraction package at Epic Waters sought to accomplish multiple goals. Coleman explains: “We didn’t want to put an attraction package together that wouldn’t be interesting to teens as they grew older. Our attraction package was intentionally designed to be on the thrill-seeking side to keep older youths interested.”

According to Coleman, it was also imperative that the park add multiple, “first-of-its-kind” attractions, challenging the slide manufacturer and the development team to ensure that Epic Waters stays true to its name. That forward thinking led to three of the park’s nine thrilling slides, becoming the “first of their kind” in the United States, as well as the addition of one of the longest, indoor lazy rivers in the country.

The park certainly did not limit the fun to just older kids and teens, though, as the waterpark’s “Rascal’s Round-Up” kids’ area is guaranteed to give the destination’s littlest visitors memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Bringing It All Together
One of the biggest challenges that any waterpark faces, especially an indoor one, is to create an experience that encourages guests to stay longer. The attraction package plays a major role in that, but Coleman explains that most guests only have a tolerance to be wet for so long. That is why Epic Waters’ team spent hour after hour planning and laying out guest-friendly spaces in ancillary areas. The bar, the food outlets, the gift shop, the arcade, party rooms, and cabanas—all of these areas are high priority, and need to be attractive, inviting, and easily accessible.

“When you look at it from a business perspective, your highest profitability per square foot comes from these ancillary-income areas,” Coleman explains. “Thus, those revenue areas become really important to making the entire facility sustainable and profitable. The waterpark will make money, but the money from these areas helps bring the project back over 100-percent recovery.”

Looking Ahead
Splashing in its early success and community impact, Epic Waters and all of Grand Prairie look forward to the opening of The Epic next door. The 120,000-plus-square-foot mega recreation and lifestyle center will feature gymnasiums, adventure tracks, a culinary-arts kitchen, a performance theater, recording studios, video-editing bays, an outdoor amphitheater, and more. By offering combo passes for access to both facilities, guests can bounce back and forth all day.

Finally, the 10-acre PlayGrand Adventures, set to open later in 2018, fills a major need in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and will provide the community with an all-inclusive playground where children and adults of all capabilities can come together and play.

The Grand Prairie Parks, Arts, & Recreation Department’s efforts on this massive project were recognized with the National Recreation and Parks Association’s 2017 Gold Medal award, one of the highest honors in the industry. Grand Prairie’s forward-thinking city government firmly believes that affordable lifestyle experiences are the future, and the city’s citizens, as well as those of the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, stand to benefit.

The vision of creating something truly epic was a shared vision, all the way from the mayor of the city to every member of parks and rec, the design team, and the community, and as EpicCentral nears completion, it stands tall as a reminder of what a community can accomplish with the right team.

Mark Massimino is the Marketing and Public Relations Manager for American Resort Management. Reach him at (814) 833-2631, or mmassimino@armpallc.com.