‘Great Wolf Lodge on steroids’: Giant indoor water park proposed for West Des Moines

    Chris Higgins

    Des Moines Register

    A proposed massive development could turn the southwest corner of West Des Moines into a destination unlike any other in Iowa.

    Developers announced plans Wednesday for The Grand Experience, a proposed $600 million, 226-acre entertainment district that could include a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 400-room hotel and business conference center, a family entertainment center, a variety of dining options with different themes and experiences, new retail and office space and 1,200 housing units with an emphasis on affordable homes for workers.

    The district would be off Grand Avenue between 60th and 88th streets next to the future campus of Des Moines University, 8025 Grand Ave., and the RecPlex, 6500 Grand Ave. The Grand Experience would provide visitors to the newly opened sports and recreation complex more options for entertainment nearby.

    “This is not scaled back,” Riley Hogan, senior vice president for real estate services firm CBRE, told the Des Moines Register. “This is going big.”

    The centerpiece of the proposed development would be a water park two-and-a-half times the size of the Great Wolf Lodge water park in Kansas City, Kansas, and more akin to something found in the Wisconsin Dells, Hogan said. At 38,000 square feet, the Great Wolf Lodge has a lazy river, several water slides, a water fort treehouse and hot springs.

    Hogan called the proposed West Des Moines version the “Great Wolf Lodge on steroids.”

    Clyde Evans, community and economic development director for West Des Moines, said the project will have as much impact on the area as Jordan Creek Town Center, and could transform empty fields into a destination for the Midwest. Jordan Creek Town Center, which opened in 2004, was a $200 million development — about $314 million when adjusted for inflation.

    The investment would rank among the highest in West Des Moines, beyond Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars into its data centers nearby. It would also rank among the highest in the metro.

    In addition to the entertainment center, about half of the planned 1,200 housing units would rent at rates affordable to the Des Moines metro’s workforce. The development is expected to create 1,000 jobs in the service industry.

    “One of the most critical issues facing businesses today is the ability to attract employees, especially in the service industry. This inability is often directly tied to the limited supply of quality workforce housing located near their jobs. West Des Moines, like many cities, is experiencing these same constraints,” West Des Moines Mayor Russ Trimble said in a statement. “We are very happy to hear that this development may include a sizable quality housing component.

    “We are also extremely excited about this unbelievable development that will complement our existing investment in the RecPlex and will enhance the quality of life for residents and families not only in West Des Moines, but throughout our region and our state.”

    The rest of the development would include retail and office space. Hogan, of CBRE, said in a news release that the firm is already working with several companies interested in space there. He said the proximity to Jordan Creek Town Center and other shopping, dining and entertainment in West Des Moines is attractive to potential tenants.

    “We are targeting commercial users such as fitness facilities, restaurants, breweries, and entertainment concepts that would create synergies with The Grand Experience, the RecPlex, and the rest of the Grand Avenue corridor,” he said.

    A feasibility study to see what the area can support will be ready for West Des Moines to review this month, and then the City Council would be asked to vote on a development agreement. Any financial incentives the city would consider offering the developers are to be determined, Evans said.

    Developers plan to break ground in fall 2023.

    The Grand Experience is being developed by WDM Entertainment, a group of developers, architects, consultants and investors led by West Des Moines resident Jim Bergman.

    It also includes Architectural Design Consultants Inc. of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, known for work on water parks and conference centers; the Goldstein family of Bettendorf, with a long history in the entertainment business; and S&L Hospitality, with experience in developing and managing water park resorts.

    The project’s concept has been in the works since 2016. Developers originally considered building a smaller-scale version in the Quad Cities before settings their sights on West Des Moines, according to a news release.

    Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.

    This content was originally published here.

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