Tourist venues optimistic about upcoming season

The recession is putting plans for a new water park at Howe Caverns on hold for now, but manager Rob

The recession is putting plans for a new water park at Howe Caverns on hold for now, but manager Robert Holt said attendance was up in 2008 and he’s expecting another increase this year.

Officials last year outlined the idea of building a $75 million facility including a year-round, indoor water park and a 250-room hotel on 40 acres of property in Howes Cave owned by Howe Caverns.

The Latham-based Schwartz Heslin Group continues to seek investors but the shaky economy is slowing that effort down, said Tommy Thompson, a managing director at Schwartz Heslin and member of the project’s development team.

“We still believe that the water park is a great idea,” Thompson said.

The economy made an impact on theme parks and attractions in 2008 as people took shorter vacations and spent more time at local attractions, according to the 2008 Attraction Attendance Report issued jointly by the Themed Entertainment Association and Economics Research Associates, both headquartered in California.

The report estimates attendance at the top 20 most-attended theme parks in the United States, none of which are in the Capital Region.

“Overall, the numbers and the economy are pointing to lower attendance in 2009,” the report states.

But with proximity to potential tourists, representatives at both Howe Caverns and the Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom are anticipating a good year.

“We are preparing for our longest and most exciting season we’ve had in years,” said Becky Valenti, public relations manager at Six Flags Great Escape Properties.

Valenti said Six Flags doesn’t divulge attendance numbers from individual sites but she suggested 2008 was a good year for the company overall.

“The company had a record-breaking year last year,” Valenti said.

“This year at the Great Escape in general our customers will recognize the value we have in this economy. We are close to home and we are family-friendly and there’s something for everybody,” she said.

Six Flags spent a significant — but undisclosed — amount of money building the new Sasquatch ride to be unveiled this season, Valenti said.

“This is an investment into the community, the tallest ride in our park. It’s clearly going to stand as a symbol,” Valenti said of the 192-foot thrill ride.

About 140,000 guests a year visit Howe Caverns in Schoharie County, and Holt said the numbers increased in both 2007 and 2008.

“We’ve been doing very well through the down economy and our numbers are ahead of last year,” Holt said.

Holt said he’s hearing similar reports from other commercial caves.

“Across the county they’re pretty much seeing the same things because people are staying closer to home. It’s easier to get in the car, and the price of gas didn’t really affect us last summer,” Holt said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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