Great Wolf Hunting for Water Park Sites, KeyLime Cove Spied

Great Wolf Lodge has approached the village board in Gurnee about potentially acquiring KeyLime Cove. – photos

by Long Hwa-shu

After nine years since KeyLime Cove Water Resort opened early in 2008 in Gurnee, Great Wolf Lodge, the leader in the indoor water park industry, has come at its door with plans to acquire it and expand it.

Great Wolf Resorts, Inc., based in Madison, Wis., which already owns 14 locations across the country, said it would invest more than $65 million to renovate and expand the property after acquiring it. It also plans to  its theme to fit its rustic image from tropical.

Great Wolf received a boost for its plans Monday night when the Gurnee Village board approved a deal to provide up to $18 million from a revenue-sharing agreement it originally entered into with KeyLime Cove. The money will be designated for use by Great Wolf for with its acquisition and renovation of the property.

We are always looking for opportunities to expand. The Chicago area is a big market for us.”Great Wolf spokesman Jason Lasecki

“The village board meeting went well. Right now we are evaluating it. Nothing is finalized yet,” said Jason Lasecki, a company spokesman.

He declined to specify the purchase price but when KeyLime Cove first opened on Feb. 29, 2008, it was billed as a $137-million indoor water resort with a 414-room hotel occupying 65,000 square feet on 30 acres. As recreational spending by consumers is optional, sales at the resort are said to follow the ups and downs of the economy.

“We are always looking for opportunities to expand. The Chicago area is a big market for us,” Lasecki said.

Great Wolf, a privately-held company, started out in 1999 in Wisconsin Dells where it operates a lodge. Over the years it has wolfed down water resort properties across the country making it an unquestioned leader in the industry.

The Big Foot Pass at one of Great Wolf Resort’s 14 locations.

It owns and operates 14 properties in 12 states and also in Ontario, Canada. It plans to open a resort in Bloomington, Minn., next winter and another one in LaGrange, Ga., in 2018.

“Our paw print is expanding across the country, and we are excited to open our net Great Wolf Lodge in Minnesota,” said Ruben Rodriguez, chief executive officer of Great Wolf Resorts Inc.

When KeyLime opened its door early in 2008, the hotel rooms were quickly sold out. The indoor water park, as pointed out by D.W. Anderson, one of the original founders, “an answer for Americans who want a short vacation not far from home.”

With its tall mango-colored exterior which vividly stands out amid an expanding crawl along Grand Avenue, the main thoroughfare of a once obscure rural village, KeyLime Cove has become a popular vacation spot.

Inside the balmy resort with a tropical feel, man-made waves pound a beach lined with Adirondack chairs. Splashes and laughter are ever-present. Among other features: a 500-foot-long winding creek for people floating on inner tubes, and a slide that stretches 450 feet with a 40-foot drop and a 10-foot tall bucket shaped like a pineapple on top of a tower. It dumps water every five minutes for those willing to be drenched. On dry grounds, there is an 8,000-square-foot arcade where you can play games, shop at stores and eat at one of several eateries.

As an incentive for KeyLime Cove to build its water park in Gurnee, the village entered into a revenue-sharing  agreement with the owners whereby it will pay them half of the 7 percent local hotel tax it collects for 20 years or until 2028. The $18 million Great Wolf will receive if it becomes the new owner of KeyLime will come from funds collected by the village under that agreement. In other words, Great Wolf will be the new beneficiary.


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