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Delays push Hollister resort into 2024

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The Hollister water park resort project announced in summer 2020 by an Orlando, Florida-based development and hospitality group is still a go but will miss its originally projected 2023 opening, according to city officials.

Imagine Hospitality LLC, dba Imagine Resorts & Hotels, is amid roughly $8 million of infrastructure work at the resort site off of U.S. Highway 65 near Menards and Angler’s Lodge, said Hollister City Administrator Rick Ziegenfuss. He said the developer-funded activity, which includes building and extending roads, adding water and sewer services, and drilling a well for a 300,000-gallon water tower, started in August 2021, and it’s expected to conclude by early summer.

The work is in preparation for a 575,000-square-foot resort on 68 acres in the Taney County city. Imagine Resorts owns the property, which it purchased in 2020 from Madison, Wisconsin-based BB Syndication Services Inc., a consortium of community banks that had owned it since 2008, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Dubbed Imagine Resorts Hollister, project components include a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park; 450 guest rooms and cabins; up to eight restaurants; spa areas for adults and children; and a combined 80,000 square feet for family entertainment, a convention center and retailers. Additionally, the project is expected to produce at least 450 jobs, according to company officials.

While the project’s cost was initially estimated at $250 million-$300 million in 2020, the price tag is on the rise, Ziegenfuss said, adding an expected two-year buildout currently puts the project completion in mid-2024.

“Construction costs are challenging,” he said, noting the increasing materials costs has pushed the project north of $350 million.

Upon announcing the project in 2020, Imagine Resorts CEO and managing member Bruce Neviaser said the goal was to break ground in the first quarter of 2021. Ziegenfuss said this spring that infrastructure work would be finished before the groundbreaking, which is expected later this summer.

Into infrastructure
Springfield-based Emery Sapp & Sons Inc. is general contractor for the project’s infrastructure component, which also involves engineering work from CJW Transportation Consultants LLC, Ziegenfuss said. Rolla-based Flynn Drilling Co. is a subcontractor for the on-site water tower and an accompanying 1,325-foot well.

Although Imagine Resorts is funding the infrastructure work, Ziegenfuss said the city signed a letter of intent to maintain it for perpetuity upon passage of public inspections. The work also includes a roundabout to serve as the primary entry point into the park, as well as extending Financial Drive south on the west side of the property and building a public access road on the east side.

He said the city received schematics this month for the project, which included site layout and elevations. General contractor is Denver-based PCL Construction, and architect is Dallas-based HKS Architects Inc.

Imagine Resorts is in the final phase of raising capital, Ziegenfuss said, declining to disclose the estimated timeline for its completion.

“To secure permanent financing, you have to have what’s called guaranteed maximum price,” he said, referring financial questions to the developer. “Right now, that’s a challenge.”

Imagine Resorts executives Neviaser, Craig Stark and Deena Redding didn’t return messages seeking comment by press time.

Neviaser and Stark were co-founders of development firm The Great Lakes Cos., which had more than 4,000 employees and an asset value exceeding $1.2 billion in 2004. Stark exited the company in 2005, followed by Neviaser in 2006, according to past reporting. The three principals have developed and operated more than 40 hotels and family resorts nationwide during their careers in the hospitality and resort industries. Those include eight Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resorts.

Facing timelines
The Hollister project marks the company’s first in Missouri, Ziegenfuss said, adding the city last month received a timeline for when the developer plans to obtain permits for sitework and underfloor utilities, as well as vertical construction broken down into different disciplines. However, he declined to disclose additional details at the request of the company.

“The general timeline is this summer,” he said. “Certainly, I would expect mass grading, site preparation to start in earnest.”

The Imagine Resorts project is the city’s second attempt to bring a water park to town. Hollister Interchange Development Co. planned to build a $250 million resort on the same site in 2008, featuring a 4-acre outdoor water park, a 75,000-square-foot indoor water park and 400 two-bedroom condos. Plans also called for a mix of retail, eateries and hotels. Groundbreaking was held in February 2008, but the project was ultimately scrapped due to lack of financing amid the Great Recession, according to past SBJ reporting.

Ziegenfuss told SBJ in 2020 more than 80% of the Imagine Resorts project is expected to be privately funded – a total he said last month should still be accurate. If the project costs $350 million, the public financing would be roughly $70 million. He expects the developer will seek tax increment financing, but no request has yet been made.

The city has been in nearly daily contact with members of the project team, Ziegenfuss said. Some of the communication involves updates, along with questions on various city codes, such as those dealing with swimming pools, topsoil and traffic islands.

“There’s just all that finite detail that goes into this,” he said.

He said the rising inflation rate, which the Labor Department reported at 8.5% in the U.S. for the 12 months ending in March – its highest level since 1981 – and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war have negative economic impacts. However, he remains confident those issues won’t keep the resort project from coming to fruition.

“Every once in a while, I tell them I’m nervous,” he said, regarding conversations with project officials. “They give me a little update on why I shouldn’t be nervous. We’re taking steps forward and remaining very positive.”

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