Snow park project is economic peak for Grapevine
BY ALESHIA HOWE August 03, 2009
Ft. Worth Business Press Annouces:
A $1.6 billion, 3-million-square-foot mixed-use development including a one-of-a-kind indoor ski park and an Asian cultural center would be a significant project even in an economic boom, but developers of the planned World Villages of Grapevine are counting on the area's appetite for entertainment for support.
The Gardens of Grapevine Development LP is set to break ground on the project by year's end between State Highways 121 and 2499, adjacent to the Grapevine Mills Mall. The Gardens of Grapevine will submit its second round of plans to the city of Grapevine for approval next month with plans already under way for the first phases of its massive mixed-use development called Villages of Grapevine, which will have entertainment, retail, residential and office space. But the primary attraction is a $70 million ski park called Texas Alps.
For North Texas' first snow park, Gardens of Grapevine brought in Snow Sport Entertainment Ltd., which, in conjunction with un-named European business partners, will construct the 250,000-square-foot Texas Alps project. The project is expected to be complete within 24 months to 26 months from groundbreaking, which is estimated at 120 to 180 days out. The park's grand opening is slated for July 2011.
The Gardens of Grapevine Development group is made up of investors Loy Lowery and former Texas Rangers' major league baseball player Rafael Palmeiro, according to Tony L. Bowen, commercial real estate director of World Villages.
"We want this to be the best place to be between Vegas and Orlando," Bowen said. "It's not going to replace the Colorado experience at all; it's really to build up the enthusiasm and build up the day-to-day opportunity for North Texans to practice skiing for when they do want to make their trips to Colorado."
The snowy playground of Texas Alps will offer an indoor ski slope measuring nearly 600 feet, an indoor ice climbing wall and luge track, retail and restaurants. Cost for admission will be about $28 to $45 per person.
And though design plans have been introduced, depicting a large slope for the exterior of the building, Alec G. Sohmer, CEO of Manchester-based Snow-Sport Entertainment, said the project could be expanded further to include a second slope - something that's never been done.
"We've expanded this project and it may be the biggest we've ever done," Sohmer said.
Texas Alps was originally called Alpine Village, but Sohmer said the "unique" environment of Texas called for a Lone Star name, hence Texas Alps. And Grapevine was the perfect location in North Texas, he added.
"Grapevine is the Christmas capital of Texas and we'll go for a real Christmas feel, especially around the holidays," Sohmer said. "There will be a real Santa's Village and it will be something to behold. This could be a destination like no other. It will be the sort of destination that if any other city in America wants to put in an indoor ski park, they will come to Grapevine to see how to do it."
This isn't the first time a North Texas indoor ski facility has been announced. Two years ago, the Bearfire Resort revealed plans for a year-round ski park in north Fort Worth with a planned opening in 2009. The status of that project is unknown. The project's developers could not be reached for comment and the public relations firm handling the project is no longer working with the developer.
Snow-Sport Entertainment has built several ski parks throughout Europe, including Chill Factore in Manchester, England. And Sohmer said people have already started calling him, asking "where can I buy tickets?" to Texas Alps.
Villages of Grapevine
Bowen said the Villages of Grapevine development has been in the works for a few years. The project eventually will feature 3 million square feet of hospitality, office, retail, entertainment and multifamily residential development. Currently, the first hotel slated for the project, which has yet to receive a flag, has been approved by the city of Grapevine. Bowen said the developers are awaiting lender approval for that piece, but they expect to break ground on an upscale hotel with meeting facilities in the coming months. Bowen said developers will submit plans to the city of Grapevine next month for a 235-unit multifamily project and a 200-unit senior living project - both additions to the World Villages project.
"All three should go at the same time and open within six months of each other," Bowen said. "The idea is for the development to not just be anchored by the Texas Alps, but by entertainment and amusement, which fits in perfectly in Grapevine. And that, of course, is why securing the indoor group as our first entertainment attraction is great for us."
Another big attraction at World Villages will be the Asian Dream Garden, which
already has been contracted and is set to open in 2012, Bowen said.
The Asian Dream Gardens will feature a 45,000-square-foot international center with four floors that will be made up of a museum on the ground floor, a performing arts studio on the second floor, foreign consulate offices with leases currently being negotiated on the third floor and a top level VIP area. Also included in the Asian Dream Gardens will be a 25,000-square-foot Asian spa set atop an 80-foot man-made mountain with various water falls spouting down the sides.
Though original plans called for a theme park to be included in the World Villages development, Bowen said negotiations with a major theme park company ended abruptly eight months ago when the entertainment company filed for bankruptcy and the idea may be scrapped from the project's overall design.
"I'm not going to promise a theme park in this economic climate," Bowen said.
A key design element within the project, Bowen said, will be its LEED certification throughout the development - with current plans calling for platinum designations on most of the buildings.
Bowen said the development will generate its own electricity thanks to wind turbines and design elements (including the man-made mountain that will be made with real rocks and feature bonsai trees and other climate sensitive vegetation) will also lend itself to the LEED designation
Bowen said the city of Grapevine's proactive approaches to bringing in development - especially entertainment - as well as the city's location were key selling points. Bowen said the city is "pro-development, pro-hospitality and pro-entertainment. The standard mixed-use development just isn't getting done right now."
As for the existing entertainment venues in Grapevine, which include Great Wolf Lodge and The Gaylord Texan, Bowen said they are both considered complementary attractions rather than competition.
"We feel like they're complementary because people who come to the Gaylord are there mostly for convention business and they're there three or four days at a time. And we've been told by the city that after the first couple of days, they run out of things to do," Bowen said. "The more they can do locally, the more the city will benefit and it also helps them to attract conventions to staying here rather than instituting a revolving schedule."
Grapevine Mayor William Tate said bringing in major developments such as Texas Alps takes a vision and patience.
"Grapevine is a long way from being through," he said. "And when we're through hopefully you'll be able to experience ... the heat of the equator and the cold of the North Pole."