Plans for redeveloping the defunct Schlitterbahn waterpark in western Wyandotte County continue to evolve with the addition of a new art museum, arena and golf entertainment venue.
Homefield LLC, which was founded by Robb Heineman, a former CEO and current part-owner of Sporting KC, is asking for several changes to its agreement with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas. Earlier this week, the company laid out its revised plans for the now-$838 million revamp of the property, which sits near the intersection of interstates 435 and 70.
Previously described as a “youth sports mecca,” the Homefield development envisions adding indoor and outdoor sports facilities, hotels, apartments and retail to the former waterpark site.
New to the development plan is a BigShots Golf entertainment complex. Similar to the uber-popular Topgolf brand, BigShots offers a variety of golf-themed games for experts and amateurs alike. The KCK location would include an onsite restaurant and bar as well as outdoor miniature golf.
“Avid golfers can play full rounds on virtual golf courses all over the world, while beginners, families and children can take part in interactive games that give everyone a chance to win,” the company said in a press release earlier this year announcing its expansion to KCK and other markets.
The complex also would include a new “immersive museum” concept created with Kansas City-based Dimensional Innovations. Called Atlas 9, the 30,000-square-foot facility is described as “a magically-transformed movie theater” in planning documents. It would include multiple installations, interactive and live performances, as well as a 250-seat auditorium, concession stand and gift shop.
Richard Napper, a real estate consultant working for Homefield, likened the concept to Meow Wolf, an immersive and interactive arts and entertainment company with locations in Denver, Santa Fe and Las Vegas.
“I think on the hot, muggy days of summer when kids are playing baseball, this is a great place to go inside and see something unique,” Napper told a committee of UG commissioners. “In winter, same thing: a great place to come inside. So this is absolutely a 100% year-round activity.”
Homefield is also working to secure an agreement for a 55,000-square-foot indoor arena that can host sports practices and games, live music and e-sports. The company is also finalizing deals to bring in a new Hilton Garden Inn, a pickleball entertainment complex and used car chain Super Car Guys, Napper said.
In addition to an indoor training facility, the development would include eight outdoor baseball fields.
The company previously signed a partnership agreement with Perfect Game, which scouts baseball talent and organizes amateur tournaments. Those plans have fizzled, the developer said. But it has reached a new agreement with PBR Tournaments, which operates Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.
Homefield still plans to bring the metro area’s first Margaritaville resort and hotel to its project. Named after Jimmy Buffet’s song of the same name, that chain is known for big yet laid-back properties. Margaritaville has resorts at popular destinations like Lake of the Ozarks, Nashville, Palm Springs and the Bahamas.
The 230-room hotel would include a “Land Shark” restaurant, and an indoor pool with a rock climbing wall and a ninja course.
The revised plans were approved by a UG committee this week. The full commission is expected to weigh the plan on May 25.
Heineman declined to comment to The Star. In a statement, Napper said the company was pleased with the committee’s unanimous approval of the plan changes. “We look forward to continuing the discussion with the entire Unified Government board of commissioners on May 25,” he said.
The Schlitterbahn water park opened in 2009, but business declined sharply after a 10-year-old boy died on the 17-story Verruckt water slide in 2016. The slide was torn down and the park sat unused since 2019.
“We had a waterpark that obviously had tragedy and we had a major problem for a prime area of western Wyandotte County. That whole section was tainted,” Curtis Peterson, an attorney representing the developer, told the UG committee.
If approved, the project would be heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
The original development agreement called for up to $150 million in Kansas STAR bonds, an incentive program that redirects sales taxes to help offset the cost of major projects.
So far, the state has issued about $115 million in STAR bonds, though the developer may request more now that the project has increased in scope, said Todd LaSala, the UG’s attorney working on the agreement
Homefield is also asking the UG to issue $135 million in industrial revenue bonds, which would allow the development to secure a property tax abatement for 10 years. The current agreement calls for Homefield to make annual payments of $1.12 million to $1.23 million over 10 years in lieu of paying property taxes on the Margaritaville hotel and Homefield’s indoor and outdoor facilities.
A Community Improvement District is expected to raise another $59 million for the development by assessing an extra 2% sales tax in the area. The plan would also charge a $2 fee on museum tickets, a $2 fee on arena tickets and a $30-per-night room fee at the Margaritaville hotel.
Altogether, the public would fund more than 40% of the costs of the projects included in the development plan, LaSala told the committee.
The developer is asking the local government to issue bonds backed by the revenues from the new Community Improvement District. Officials said the UG won’t be on the hook if tax revenues are too low to repay the bonds.
But when asked whether a failure of the bonds could pose a threat to the government, LaSala acknowledged a possible risk.
He said at least one credit agency has been dinging municipalities when bonds fail — even bonds that are not backed by the full faith and credit of the local government.
“The answer to your question is it shouldn’t,” he said, “but of late, for at least a couple of municipalities, it has hurt their credit.”