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Council hears Como Springs redevelopment plans

Article Date: 
25 October, 2013 (All day)

Morgan County’s economic development consultant is pursuing the redevelopment of the Como Springs area, saying a new hot springs pool could bring in as many as 42,900 people each year.  But that is only if the necessary agreements can be made and as much as $3.79 million can be secured to finance the venture.
The proposed pool, water slide, snow tubing hill, RV camping, zip line, walking trails, residential condos, ropes course, pavilion, cabins, tent camping and wakeboarding cable park elements of the project could bring a combined 31,870 annual visitors into Morgan that could jump start the local economy.
Revenues just the first year could soar above $1 million, based on a $8 weekday and $10 weekend per-person rate for the hot springs pool, $12 for the water slide, $10 for the tubing hill, $25 for the wakeboarding, $31 for RV camping, and $24 for tent camping.  
Consultant Better City provided the financials based on researching the Provo Veteran’s Pool, Ogden Fieldhouse, Crystal Hot Sprints, Bethy Creek Campground with a wakeboard cable park on site in Texas, Mile High Wake Park in Colorado, and Board Nation Wake Park in Michigan.
After subtracting expenses including personnel, operating, utilities, capital improvement, concessions, building lease, management fees and debt service expenses, net income from a newly developed Como Springs would be $219,288 the first year and rise to as much as $736,353 by the 20th year.
But some Morgan County Council members think those estimates are a bit high.  Despite the prospect of thousands of outside visitors frequenting the county and hundreds of thousands in profits, council members know there is still a lot of work to go before a reborn Como Springs begins to take shape.
Necessary steps
First off, Better City consultants need to measure the temperature of what they assumed was a hot spring on site.  Council members say it is a “warm” spring rather than a “hot” one.  The cost to heat the water may not have been fully explored in Better City’s proposal, council members said.
The next is aligning the city, county and private land owner in a public-private partnership that is amenable to all.  Better City recommended the three-way agreement as a way to get funding and grants totaling $3.79 million—including $1.8 million from the Community Impact Board, $715,000 from the current land owner, $425,000 from Rural Energy for America Program, $300,000 from Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant, $200,000 from the Community Development Block Grant, $200,000 in donations, between $90,000 and $150,000 from Morgan County, and $60,000 from Morgan City. 
With funding from sources including the CIB, REAP, REDLG and CDBG, the proposal is a veritable alphabet soup that Better City is trying to help Morgan County wade through
Better City suggested Morgan County own and control the water park, cable park and sledding hill and hire a third-party operator to assume the operational risk.  The state has programs to insure the county against any liability once in operation, said Adam Hughes, Better City’s director of community development.  The land owner would assume any losses and privately maintain the main building, Hughes said.
“We can attract some unique financing mechanisms that way,” Hughes said.
Better City has already put costs on paper, asking for bids to solidify expenses.  Estimates put the cost of construction of the slides and 6,000 square foot pool to be $1.67 million, the 6,500 square foot main building at $715,000, two-tower cable system to be $140,000, tubing hill equipment (including a snow gun and “magic carpet” conveyer belt) to be $120,000, excavation and demolition to be $75,000, RV pads to be $50,000, and parking lot and landscaping to be $11,000.
If the plans come to fruition, parking could be congested especially during the annual county fair, council members said.
Interest through the years
Granda Real Estate, LLC, in care of Clayton Grant Mackay, currently owns 30.14 acres considered the Como Springs area.  The Morgan County assessor values the land and associated buildings at $613,000.
In 2003, CampRVLand, LLC was a potential buyer in final negotiations to purchase Como.  Larry R. Walker had plans that included a mini mall, food services, gift shop, opera house, museum, ice skating rink, submarine ride, wall climb, picnic areas, mini golf course, indoor shooting range, exclusive RV parking, convention services, fishing pond, children’s play area, stables and corals, river float and a pool.
In 2011, Darren Menlove of the downtown Salt Lake City KOA campground and RV Park eyed the property.
“Everyone wants to resurrect Como,” said County Councilman Austin Turner.  “We always get a private person interested, then it ends up exactly like it is right now.”
In August of 2012, Better City, then acting as Morgan City’s consultant, said they had two developers interested in the Como Springs area.  The proposal a year ago was similar to Better City’s last week, only missing plans for a 60-room hotel.  Since, Better City helped secure a new site off Commercial Street for a hotel with plans to break ground in December.
Hughes said this time redevelopment plans for Como Springs could actually work because Better City is finding a way to mitigate the risks associated with the project, as well as reduce the up-front capital investment required.
“The timing is really good.  The owner is in a position he can do it,” Hughes said.  “A few years ago he couldn’t, with the recession.”
In good faith, the Morgan County Council unanimously voted last week to place Como Springs on their capital facility plan as a top priority.  Placement on the list will go a long way in securing future funding, Hughes said.  The council also voted to allow Better City to pursue grants and other funding for the project.
“This is something the council thinks is worthwhile,” Councilman Lyle Nelson said.  “It has been a life-long dream of the city and county.  It is good to explore to see if it really is viable.”
Como’s heyday
In Como’s heyday, the geo-thermo springs of the area warmed pools, its waterslides entertained visitors, and its eateries fed the masses.  Its doors officially closed in 1985, and many of the structures were demolished in 1998.
Originally established for commercial gain in 1889 by Samuel Francis, Richard Fry and Dr. Thomas Shore Wadsworth, Como Springs Resort included 40 acres and geo-thermo springs of volcanic origin with water temperatures reportedly of 82 degrees.  The resort was named after Italy’s Lake Como at the foot of the Alps, the birthplace of Francis’s wife.  Through the years, the LDS Church used the warm pond as a baptismal site.  
In its early days, the resort included a swimming portion partitioned off from the lake portion, where visitors boated.  Also included was a small store selling swimsuits and confectionery items and a large pavilion used for roller-skating and dances.  County celebrations for the 4th and 24th of July, concerts and family gatherings often took place at the resort.  In 1892, the LDS Tabernacle Choir also celebrated at the resort.
Dr. Thomas Shore Wadsworth, the resort’s general manager, touted the health values of the spring water, according to A History of Morgan County by Linda H. Smith.
After critical economic times hit the nation in 1894, the resort fell into disrepair until 1920, when the Heiner family purchased it.  The family expanded the resort to include theatrical performances, sports games, a hotel, a restaurant, a café, a hot dog stand, a bowling alley, pool halls, a live Shetland pony merry-go-round, a steam engine ride around the lake, picnic pavilions, ice ponds, 100 dressing rooms, a boat house, 35 cottages and a manufacturing facility of mineral water. The nearly 13,000 square foot pool was piped to bring in hot sulphur water.
“Members of the community remember Como as a really cool destination venue,” Hughes said.  “There is an emotional attachment to this.”
The brick 10-unit hotel was built between 1953 and 1955.  Doors to the resort swimming pools closed in 1985.  In 1990, the dance hall was converted into a water bottling facility.