Gary and Becky Bertch continue to astound.
The owners of Bertch Cabinet, whose prior endeavors have earned local, national and global plaudits, raised the ante last week by announcing their intention to build a $100 million theme park with roller coasters and other thrill rides.
The park would have five “lands” and a 30-acre lake on 200 acres of farmland on Shaulis Road across the street from their nationally recognized Lost Island Waterpark and the neighboring Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo.
Construction could begin next month. A summer 2022 opening is planned.
“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.
He added, “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.”
To quote the vaudeville ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, “Who would have thunk?”
Well, the Bertches, obviously. Gary said the idea began germinating 10 years ago.
But who would have thought Gary and his brother, Bob, working in a Gilbertville barn the late 1970s, would spawn two major Cedar Valley employers — Bertch Cabinet, founded by Gary and his wife, Becky, and Bob’s Omega Cabinet?
And who would have thought the Cedar Valley would be the epicenter for an employee recognition experience like none other? Gary and Becky have rewarded Bertch Cabinet workers for meeting goals with occasional Caribbean trips since 1989.
The most recent was in January 2017 when 600 of 800 employees embarked on four chartered jets from Waterloo Airport for a Carnival Cruise excursion. (Others opted for a cash payout.) “Today,” CNN and media from Toronto to London reported on it.
Their kindness has extended to tailoring schedules for longtime employees afflicted with debilitating illnesses and those taking continuing education courses.
The then-$6 million, 34-acre Lost Island project opened in 2001 along with the adjacent Monaleo Adventure Golf — two innovative 18-hole miniature courses — and Monaleo’s Speedway, one of the Midwest’s longest go-kart tracks.
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The water park — featuring one of the world’s few hydromagnetic water coasters as well as tube and body slides, wave pool, lazy river, toddler areas, raft rides and zip line — has been the No. 2-rated outdoor water park in the nation, according to USA Today, while also gaining Trip Advisor recognition.
It has a capacity of 5,000 visitors daily.
To complement the park, the Bertches built the Bamboo Ridge campground complex — a convenience store, 154 RV sites, 10 tent campsites, 10 cabins, laundry and shower facilities and pavilions situated around an 11-acre lake with a beach for paddle boats and swimming.
The Bertches’ community involvement includes jointly chairing the recent Cedar Valley United Way fund drive that brought in a record $3.1 million in pledges (a 7.1 percent increase).
They also contributed $50,000 from the Gary, Becky, Eric and Elizabeth Bertch Family Fund held with the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa to Try Pie, fully funding a pie-making business in downtown Waterloo engaging up to 20 teen girls with a mix of faith, real-life work and customer service experience.
The theme park would pay an additional community dividend.
Tavis Hall, executive director of Experience Waterloo, cited a potential economic impact of “a little over $32 million” annually. An internationally recognized modeling system, he said, predicts $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.
Just as importantly, the Bertches hope to fill a critical void in the community.
“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,” Gary 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.”
To assist the project, Waterloo is seeking a state Revitalize Sound Economy Grant for road improvement work. It also expects to bond an estimated $14 million, recouping the investment through property taxes from the park and hotel-motel tax revenue.
This is another jaw-dropping enterprise by Bertches with the potential to exponentially enhance the Cedar Valley as a destination site, while improving quality of life.
We heartily commend the Bertches, an amazing community asset as both visionaries and doers.