Roof Garden Redux

Monday, May 15, 2017

By SETH BOYES/ Special to the Pilot-Tribune

Motorists along Highway 71 in Arnolds Park have likely seen the construction taking place, as part of the amusement park's first phase of improvements. The project is being called, "Restore the Park" to compliment the previous park campaign, "Sustain the Park," which took steps to make the park financially sustainable. Charlie Whittenburg, CEO of Arnolds Park Amusement Park, said the project will be completed in three phases.

"Phase one of the project began late last fall," Whittenburg said.

The first phase was mainly focused on updating utilities, ranging from plumbing and fiber optics within the park. An additional parking lot will be added near the intersection of Highway 71 and Zephyr Drive, likely opening by the Fourth of July to help draw more visitors.

"We think we've been missing some folks on some busy Saturday afternoons, if they're driving by because they can't find a place to park," Whittenburg said. "So, putting the infrastructure in place; the nitty-gritty, the good fiber optics, the parking, the good bathrooms, all the things that facilitate a reasonable experience besides just being wowed by the roller coaster, are an important component of what we offer here."

Season pass purchases have increased by approximately 30 percent compared to last year. Rides aboard the Queen II increased by 75 percent over the last two-and-a-half years. Jill Harms, Historic Arnolds Park Inc. board president, said daily admissions and memberships have also been increasing over the last six years.

"It says a lot about what our staff is doing to host our guests in the summer time," Whittenburg said.

A second phase beginning next fall will focus on building an expansion onto the Maritime Museum which will include a new location for the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, complting the Majestic Pavilion, renovation of tghe Preservation Plaze outdoor concert stage, and addition of fiber optics for ride operations inside the park.

A third phase will build a new Roof Garden, which will be based on the look and feel of the famous dance hall of yesteryear at the 128-year-old site.

The park will also be adding a cul de sac "commons" to the north end of Zephyr Drive to provide a pedestrian friendly area along the shoreline.

"We're excited about having a better lakefront because it's such an important part of our area," Whittenburg said.

Whittenburg said both the HAPI and Parks Foundation Board have financially committed to the project. An anonymous group of donors has committed up to $6 million in a matching grant for the project. The boards were informed of the funds over the winter.

"We were pretty moved by the $6 million," Whittenburg said.

Harms highlighted the value of the park to the local scene.

"Arnolds Park continues to be the heart of Okoboji," Harms said. "This community fought very hard in 1999 to save this park from being torn down and developed into condominiums. In a matter of 30 days, this community raised $7 million so that this would remain the heart of our community."

The board began the "Sustain the Park" campaign shortly after the park was incorporated. Harms said the new "Restore the Park" campaign builds on what was accomplished in the past.

"So, we have the foundation and we want to take what we have today, make it sustainable for the future -- most importantly functional for the future," Harms said. "We want to preserve our heritage. We want our park to be restored to what it used to look like, to what the Roof Garden once was."

After the renovations, the Roof Garden space will be able to be divided into three soundproofed sections, to allow multiple functions at once.

"Our intention would be to actually start to have a high level of entertainment at the Roof Garden where we could charge for a ticket," he said. "I don't know if there's a true 365-day season here, but it certainly helps us get on those shoulder seasons in the fall time and the major holidays."

Construction on the Roof Garden is tentatively slated for the fall of 2018, according to Whittenburg. The construction may be complete as soon as August of 2019.

In the future, Whittenburg said the electronic infrastructure may allow for further improvements, such as electronic ticketing. He noted many young families plan their visits to other similar sights using a mobile device.

"We have to have the basis of fiber optics to build on those systems and make that happen," Whittenburg said. "We have to be in that position so folks can see what we have on their phone, they can ticket on their phone, they can come to any event that we do in the area and they can accomplish that on their phone or any other electronic device."

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