ROUND ROCK, Texas - A grand opening ribbon cutting was held Thursday at the lobby entrance to the new Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Round Rock.
The new resort is a 1.5 million sq ft complex located along Hwy 79, across from Dell Diamond.
“But it was pure joy, I had a tear in my eye,” said Natasha Luke with the ownership group and a member of the Nelson family which has built several water parks, all up north until now.
Kalahari is promoted as the largest indoor water park in America. Splash pads, wave pools, water slides, and a lazy river are the main attractions. Other attractions include a carnival-like arcade and thrill rides, as well as several restaurants, most with indoor and outdoor seating.
There was no stampede of guests to the African-themed resort, but the owners are confident that opening during a viral outbreak is the right thing to do. "We are confident it will work, just because we have properties in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, who have safely reopened per every state’s regulation and guideline,” said Lucke.
Construction was fast-tracked and took only about 30 months. The $550 million resort is now considered to be one of the largest employers in Round Rock.
“We’ve hired in excess of a thousand employees, which is wonderful, especially during these times when a lot of folks are laid off,” said owner Todd Nelson.
Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell believes the project vindicates his COVID-19 strategy.
“We were dealing with life and death issues, but I knew the minute I signed the Order to shut down businesses, we actually created a committee, that would look at how we would stand up small businesses, and how we continue with the business, here in Williamson County," Gravell said. "Through our CARES Act fund we met the needs of 3800 businesses in Williamson County, and today we are opening up a $600 million business."
Current COVID-19 regulations will limit how many people can stay in the 975 room resort. Capacity is capped at 50% and on Thursday only about 200 paying guests checked in.
Modely Carranza, who drove down with her family from Wichita Falls, admits being a little worried about the pandemic. “My cousin over there was the one with the idea, so we were like, heck yeah, Opening day let's go,” she said.
Several COVID safety protocols are in place. The water in the pools has a mixture of chlorine and bromine. Masks are required, except while in the water and eating in restaurants. Constant wipe downs are also being done by staff members.
“So we definitely ramped up our common area cleaning crew, we are using hospital-grade disinfectant on all high touchpoints. If a family gets up from a table, after lunch, we are on them. Slides, handrails, all high touchpoints are being cleaned frequently,” said Lucke.
Round Rock owns the land the resorts sits on and the convention center next to it. The City is expected to receive $4 million in tax revenue each year, after paying off the debt for road building and the incentive package.