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Imagine Resorts picks Hollister for $250M-$300M development

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An Orlando, Florida-based development and hospitality group is making a big splash in Hollister with the announcement of a $250 million-$300 million waterpark resort that’s expected to produce at least 450 jobs.

Imagine Hospitality LLC, dba Imagine Resorts & Hotels, selected the city south of Branson for a 575,000-square-foot resort on 68 acres, according to company officials. Deena Redding, chief development officer for Imagine Resorts, said the group has a parcel of land under contract off of U.S. Highway 65 near La Quinta Inn & Suites and Menards.

“This will be the first of its kind,” said Imagine Resorts CEO Bruce Neviaser, at a July 29 livestreamed news conference in Hollister. “Our goal is to break ground in the first quarter of next year.”

He said the project is in the design phase to determine schematics, programming and final budgeting. It’s expected to take over two years to build with a 2023-targeted opening.

Hollister City Administrator Rick Ziegenfuss said local officials have pursued a waterpark resort concept for over a decade. A failed project was abandoned by developers in 2008.

The city issued a notice of need in 2017 for the land – on the west side of Highway 65 across from an Ozarks Technical Community College campus – requesting possible waterpark resort ideas. Imagine Resorts answered the call that same year, Ziegenfuss said, kicking off project development for Imagine Resorts Hollister.

Local officials say the developers have a glimmer of hope for economic development even in these uncertain times from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Imagine as a group is telegraphing they have confidence in the future,” Ziegenfuss said.

The plans call for a 100,000-square-foot indoor waterpark; 450 guest rooms and cabins; up to eight restaurants; 40,000 square feet of family entertainment space; 30,000 square feet of convention center space; 10,000 square feet of retail space; and spa areas for adults and children.

Taney County Partnership Executive Director Jonas Arjes also has been involved in talks for years to bring the concept to Hollister.

“It is a year-round tourism asset with full-time, year-round jobs,” he said. “It’s something that will bring visitors to town in January and February, be open 365 days a year and provide good quality jobs for locals and folks in the region.”

The Hollister resort is the latest county project that seeks to draw visitors year-round. Aquarium at the Boardwalk is expected to open along Branson’s 76 Strip this fall, according to its website, while indoor amusement park WonderWorks Branson LLC opened in June.

Future funding
The executive team of Imagine Resorts, founded in 2015, consists of Neviaser and Redding, along with Craig Stark. Neviaser and Stark were co-founders of The Great Lakes Cos., which had more than 4,000 employees and a portfolio value exceeding $1.2 billion in 2004. The company developed, owned and operated a portfolio of franchise hotels, including the Great Wolf Lodge brand of indoor waterpark resorts. Stark exited the company in 2005, followed by Neviaser in 2006, according to a news release.

The three principals have developed and operated more than 40 hotels and family resorts nationwide during their careers in the hospitality and resort industries, according to the release. Eight of those are Great Wolf Lodge resorts, including one in Kansas City, Kansas.

Ziegenfuss said this marks Imagine Resorts’ first project in Missouri, and its largest to date.

While the Imagine Resorts news release announcing the Hollister project noted its cost at $300 million, Ziegenfuss said that’s on the high end. He estimated a $250 million-plus price tag.

“I don’t want to overstate a project and overcommit the public sector production or participation, then find out that it’s not really accurate,” he said.

Arjes said the capital side of the project is still being finalized. A breakdown by Ziegenfuss puts expenditures at 83% privately funded and 17% using public funds. For a $250 million-$300 million project, the range for public financing would be roughly $42 million-$51 million.

It’s much less than the $115.6 million in public financing sought for the failed $446 million Branson Adventures waterpark project in 2018. The Branson Board of Aldermen denied CP Branson LLC’s tax increment financing proposal and the developer could not acquire the remainder of financing, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Imagine Resorts will seek tax increment financing in Hollister, Ziegenfuss said.

He said Imagine Resorts would bring a significant portion of the private funding as equity through investors. Redding did not return messages seeking comment on the financial plan by press time, and Neviaser declined to provide any information beyond the news release.

Second chance
The Hollister project will mark the city’s second attempt to open a waterpark resort at the site.

Hollister Interchange Development Co. planned to build a $250 million resort there 12 years ago featuring a 4-acre outdoor waterpark, a 75,000-square-foot indoor waterpark 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.

Madison, Wisconsin-based BB Syndication Services Inc., a consortium of community banks, has held onto the property since 2008, local officials said.

The land was originally in a TIF district in 2005 for the prior resort project, but it expired after 10 years. It was renewed in 2016 when Menards came to town. The Imagine Resorts Hollister project also is in a community improvement district, but no tax has been levied at this time, he said.

Ziegenfuss declined to estimate how much tax revenue the TIF and CID would generate annually, as project financials are still being determined. He said the TIF might need to be amended to include a different geographic area from when it was previously approved.

“There’s some of those details that we have to finish before we can actually say this is the dollar figure of this or that,” he said. “It’s going to be a few months before we have all that last-minute stuff.”

Arjes said while it’s nice to get the project finally announced, now is the time when boots need to get on the ground for engineering and designing work. He said Imagine Resorts has indicated preliminary interest in using local firms for the work, but no decisions have been made.

“This is when the real work begins,” he said. “Now you’ve got to get ready to build something.”

Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.

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