Water park sparks fight of incentives, water use

A planned $100 million indoor water park and resort hotel has triggered a battle of incentives between the Carolinas and a war of words over water use.

Great Wolf Resorts is choosing between Fort Mill and Concord, N.C., for its new resort, Cabarrus County, N.C., officials said. The company will pick a Charlotte-area site in two to three months, said Jennifer Beranek, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin company.

It's a lucrative project. The resort would create 400 jobs and generate $68 million in annual visitor spending, Cabarrus estimated.

On the incentives front, South Carolina has put together a package that could be worth five times more than what Cabarrus offered.

As for water use, Concord says, it has plenty of capacity for the project. But that hasn't kept Hickory-area towns from pouncing on Great Wolf as a symbol of waste in their fight against Concord over water issues.

Concord and Kannapolis have gotten state permission to take 10 million gallons a day each from the Yadkin and Catawba rivers to keep up with population growth over the next 30 years.

"It's offensive to me when (they say) they're trying to conserve water, and then they recruit a water park," Conover City Manager Donald Duncan said. "It borders on the verge of arrogance."

But Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt said Great Wolf approached Concord, not the other way around. Water for the site would come from the local reservoir, not the Catawba River.

"(Great Wolf) is something (opponents of the water transfer) chose to focus on to create another sound bite," Hiatt said.

The Hickory region is still repairing its economy, Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright said, and Great Wolf represents one more assault on its water resources.

John Cox, head of Cabarrus' Economic Development Corp., defended the project.

"We are an easy target, but we have solid ground to stand on," Cox said. "Maybe the mayor of Hickory needs to send me a list of the appropriate companies we can recruit."

When asked whether the park would drain local water resources, Great Wolf's Beranek said, "I'm not able to speak about that. I know it's a hot topic."

The resort would use 70,000 to 90,000 gallons of water a day, said Margaret Pearson, Concord's development services director. That's in line with other big hotels, she said.

The water park itself would consume 28,000 gallons a day, Cox said. If the Concord site were developed residentially, he said, 111 homes could fit on it, and they would use a combined 39,000 gallons a day on average.

Great Wolf's filters require much less water than traditional pools, Beranek said, and a lot less water evaporates than from outdoor pools. The parks also continuously filter and recycle pool water.

Concord's planning and zoning board approved concept plans last week for the 465,597-square-foot resort, with 409 suites and an 81,000-square-foot water park. The water park, Great Wolf's 12th nationwide, would be open only to hotel guests.

To lure Great Wolf to Fort Mill, the state and York County can offer incentives of nearly $14.2 million over 20 years, said Ryan McDaniels of the Cabarrus Economic Development Corp. "The $14.2 million is the best estimate we have, although it's not etched in stone," he said.

Last week, Cabarrus commissioners approved a five-year, $2.7 million incentive package.

Great Wolf was eligible for certain grants from South Carolina that it couldn't get from North Carolina, McDaniels said.

Even so, he's optimistic about Concord's chances. The 37-acre Concord site Great Wolf is considering sits off Speedway Boulevard between two top N.C. attractions, Concord Mills mall and Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Near Fort Mill, another major attraction straddles the state line: Carowinds amusement park, which has an outdoor water park.

Mark Farris, York County's economic development director, said he could not discuss potential projects. But he called Great Wolf a good fit for the county's thriving tourist area.