WATERLOO, Iowa --- A proposal by opponents of a Linn County casino to build a water park instead in downtown Cedar Rapids has at least raised the eyebrows of a man instrumental in the creation of Waterloo's water park and casino.
Gary Bertch is co-creator of Waterloo's Lost Island Adventurepark, with his wife, Becky. They also owned the land on which the adjacent Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo was built and supported that project.
"Interesting, yes," Bertch said of Riverside Casino executive Dan Kehl's proposal to build a $30 million indoor water park on the same site as a proposed Cedar Rapids casino --- if Linn County voters reject a gambling referendum Tuesday.
"There's absolutely irony," Bertch said. While Riverside and Waterloo casino supporters each share concerns about a Cedar Rapids casino within an hour's drive of both taking some of their respective revenues, Kehl's proposed water park poses the same kind of risk to Lost Island.
"Not enough details are known to make any educated judgment on it," Bertch said. But he added, "In general, I guess water parks are like casinos. If you get oversaturated, nobody's going to do very well. That's the bottom line.
"Casinos or water parks are regional types of attractions and they require a large population base to support them," Bertch said. "That's the thing. You can't oversaturate."
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The proposed Cedar Rapids water park "is a little different animal, with it being indoor, versus our outdoor" park, Bertch said. "There wouldn't be direct competition, but indirect competition."
Lost Island, now a decade old, is a stable operation. "Over time, we've become a regional attraction," Bertch said, including business from Linn, Jones and Johnson counties. It is positioned on Waterloo's southern edge off Interstate 380 and is easily accessible from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas. And the Bertches are constantly re-investing in the operation, regularly adding new features every year or two.
It has been built and developed entirely with private funds. Bertch would expect any competing facility to be similarly developed, and has objected to public incentives being extended to similar proposals in the past. "If one is getting (public) incentives and the others not, that's not a level playing field," he said.
In one respect, Bertch said, "I guess I have to kind of side with the 'vote yes' folks" on the proposed Cedar Rapids water park. "I heard the comment last night that they were saying, if this is a good idea, shouldn't they be doing that anyway?" regardless of the gambling referendum.
However, Bertch added, "We're going to stay neutral" on the Linn County vote. "The voters are going to make the determination if they think another casino is a good idea for their community. Ultimately, regardless of what they decide, if they vote yes, you still have the (Iowa) Racing and Gaming Commission that's going to make the decision."