Plans for Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Fort Lauderdale Still Tied up in Court

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew wiped out Six Flags Atlantis in Hollywood. There has been a giant, aching waterpark-shaped hole in Broward County ever since. But opening another Broward waterpark has been no trip down the lazy river for Schlitterbahn, one of the country’s leading water amusement corporations with outposts in Texas and Kansas.

In 2010, the City of Fort Lauderdale decided that a 65-acre site next to Fort Lauderdale Stadium should be developed into a waterpark by Schlitterbahn rather than become a soccer stadium. But the land was owned by the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, and talks dragged on, in part because the Federal Aviation Administration had to be involved in approving any lease. The city entered into a lease with Schlitterbahn in 2014 that hinged on the FAA's approving the project. But the agency instead suggested the land be transferred to the city. 

Last year, the city paid $12 million for the land, thus taking the FAA out of negotiations.  In July, Schlitterbahn owner Jeff Henry announced that this would be his “biggest, baddest” park. The city amended its lease it to Schlitterbahn, seemingly clearing the way for the park to be developed.

However, a rival waterpark alleged that because the FAA never approved the project, the original lease is moot and the city should have been required to get competitive bids on the project.  Premier Parks LLC, the corporation that owns the Riviera Beach-based Rapids Waterpark, filed suit against the city in federal court in October. 

That was nearly seven months ago, and, as we inch toward summer, Broward residents are scratching their heads wondering about the status of our promised oasis.

In the original 11-page complaint from last October, lawyers for Premier Parks stated: 

“As a developer which was not permitted the opportunity to submit a competitive bid to develop and lease the property, Premier has a special interest in the city’s leasing of the property and standing to contest the Lease. The city’s failure to adhere to the requirement of its Charter is arbitrary, capricious, and illegal... Premier’s South Florida Park will suffer substantial damages arising from the City’s lease to a competitor within the same geographic market.”

Premier Parks pointed out that in 2015, the Broward Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the city hadn't complied with the charter’s bidding laws when it awarded a $32 million contract for the design and construction of the Aquatic Complex at the Swimming Hall of Fame to Recreation Design and Construction (RDC).  The OIG report said that there had been a “troubling lack of due diligence” by the city. RDC was also selected to lead the design and construction of the park for Schlitterbahn. (Plans for the aquatic center have since been scuttled, even after the city had spent $3 million planning it.).

On April 19, attorneys from the City of Fort Lauderdale filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to find in its favor and end the case. The city claims that Premier Parks lacks standing. Besides, attorneys wrote, “Even if the city were to subsequently voluntarily competitively rebid the project, it would be free to determine that [Schlitterbahn’s] proposal is in the best interests of the City, and that determination may be exercised with a wide margin of discretion.”

The attorney representing Premier Parks, William Cea of Becker & Poliakoff, told New Times that the company will continue to fight: “The motion is procedural in nature and we will be filing opposition papers.”

Meanwhile, the amended 30-year lease, which would require Schlitterbahn to pay $810,000 a year in rent (with annual increases allowed), is set to be effective July 2. Schlitterbahn has the option to back out of the project before then without penalty if it so chooses or if it cannot get financing. Company spokesperson Winter Prosapio declined comment on the company's plans and said she would not comment on the lawsuit because Schlitterbahn is not a party to it. 

Looks like the waterpark wars continue, and everyone is staying dry. 
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson