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$100 million Lost Island theme park plans unveiled

From the The Courier's Most-Read Local Business Stories from 2019 series
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WATERLOO — Gary and Becky Bertch are planning to develop a major theme park south of their existing Lost Island Waterpark.

The proposed Lost Island Theme Park would include roller coasters and other thrill rides on nearly 200 acres of farmland across Shaulis Road from the water park and Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo.

Construction on the estimated $100 million project would begin next month, pending zoning and other approvals, with plans to open in the summer of 2022.

“The project will include a variety of rides and attractions designed to immerse guests in the stories of magical lands that can only be found at the Lost Island Theme Park,” Gary Bertch said. “This attraction is expected to enhance the Cedar Valley as a great place for family entertainment.”

The park would be divided into five different “lands” and would included a 30-acre lake.

“Some people might call it an amusement park, but this is a theme park,” Bertch said. “You’ll see a lot of rides that you’ll see in amusement parks, but this has back stories and elements that tie it all together.”

The Bertch family operates Bertch Cabinet Manufacturing and in 2001 opened Lost Island Waterpark, which ranks among the best water parks in the country. They later opened the Bamboo Ridge campground west of the park.

Bertch said plans for the theme park expansion have been in the works for more than 10 years, adding the motivation is based in part on a desire to enhance tourism and quality of life in the Cedar Valley.

“We know from surveys the city and (Experience Waterloo) have done that in spite of … a lot of entertainment venues we are still perceived locally as lacking both on children’s and family entertainment,” he said.

“One of the things we’re faced with in our manufacturing business is a critical shortage of workers,” he added. “We need to attract young families and workers, so we’ve got to have amenities that keep young people (after they graduate) school and attract more people.”

Noel Anderson, the city’s director of planning and community development, said the project would be a major boost to the local tourism economy and would help existing restaurants, hotels and retail businesses.

“I don’t know if we could be more excited about it,” Anderson said. “This is a great project for development in that area, but it’s really one of those projects that reaches to all types of people, from young to old.”

Anderson said local businesses surveyed recently talked about the need for more quality-of-life attractions and leisure activities to attract the work force they need.

The city will hold a special meeting of the Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission July 23 on plans to rezone the land from agricultural to planned commercial use, including a special permit for an outdoor recreational use.

City staff also is working on a development agreement spelling out the city’s level of financial assistance to the project.

“We’re penciling out numbers now,” Anderson said. “With Gary’s investment, road improvements and everything else we’re looking at over $100 million of total investment.”

The city is seeking a state Revitalize Sound Economy Grant for improvements to Shaulis Road and other road work. The city is also expecting to bond an estimated $14 million to assist in the development, looking to recoup the investment through property taxes from the park and hotel-motel tax revenue.

Tavis Hall, executive director of Experience Waterloo, said the proposed theme park would have a huge economic benefit to the entire Cedar Valley.

“We were able to simulate what this model would look like by calculating it as if it were an event over the course of a summer, 100 days,” Hall said. “The projected economic impact was a little over $32 million.”

That impact, based on an internationally recognized modeling system, included $6 million in food and beverage spending, $5 million in retail sales and $4 million in overnight lodging along with business-to-business and supply chain spending, he said.


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