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Schlitterbahn: Planned Fort Lauderdale Water Park Asks for Nine-Month Delay

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In 2010, Fort Lauderdale decided that a 65-acre site next to Fort Lauderdale Stadium should be developed into a Schlitterbahn water park rather than become a soccer stadium. But the project has been stalled for various reasons, including a lawsuit. Schlitterbahn was supposed to start paying rent on the site in July but is now asking for a nine-month delay. The Fort Lauderdale City Commission will vote on the matter tonight. 

Schlitterbahn, which operates four colossal water parks — three in Texas and one in Kansas City, Kansas — said the new park would be its "biggest" and "baddest." But the project has been marred by a perpetual stream of delays. In 2014, the city entered into a lease with Schlitterbahn for the 64-acre property. But the land had been under the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport's control, which meant the Federal Aviation Administration had to sign off on the deal. Instead, the FAA said the city should instead just buy the land itself, which it did, to the tune of $12 million in 2015.

But any new water park in South Florida would presumably cut into the business of the Rapids water park in Palm Beach County.  The Rapids' parent company, Premier Parks LLC, then  swooped in and sued Fort Lauderdale, claiming that because the property had switched hands, the original lease was moot. Premier also alleges that the city had violated its charter by not allowing other companies to bid on the project. The suit is still winding its way through federal court.

Schlitterbahn was slated to start paying rent on the site in July — $810,000 a year — but in a June 8 letter addressed to Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman, Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry asked the city to delay the start date of its lease an additional 270 days — long enough, Henry hopes, for the city to resolve the lawsuit.  Henry said he was "concerned" that the suit could torpedo the company's plans to build its water park.

"Our lenders and financial partners are concerned about the outcome of the water park resort property due to the City's pending or current litigation regarding the project," Henry wrote. (His letter was made available as part of this week's City Commission agenda.) "As you can imagine, our group's investment to the project can be placed at risk with an unfavorable court ruling."  

Schlitterbahn had initially hoped to open its Fort Lauderdale park sometime in 2017. If the city approves the delay, the company's lease won't even start until March 29, 2017.  Schlitterbahn is also allowed to back out of the project without consequence any time before then. 

A city spokesperson said Feldman was out of town and could not be reached. Henry did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

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