STORM LAKE, Iowa | The tweens descending on twisting slides or hurtling down speed slides at King's Pointe Waterpark Resort may not care that they're enjoying one of many amenities designed to remake Storm Lake as a tourist destination in Northwest Iowa.
But in the past decade it has become a destination for vacationers around the Midwest.
John LaFleur, of Sioux City, has been going with his family to the water park and using the campground south of King’s Pointe at least once per year for about five years.
With all the Storm Lake entertainment options, he describes it as “kind of a one-stop shop” for fun. LaFleur said he likes the size of the water park, largely because it doesn't have long wait times.
The pursuit of the oddly spelled Awaysis project -- sound it out, away-sis, oasis -- was the quest to convince Iowans and Midwesterners that the town on the edge of the lake is an oasis from the workaday world. Storm Lake is a town of 10,600 people, which long had a lake that wasn't ideal for recreation.
A nearly $40 million project resulted in the summer 2007 opening of King's Pointe Waterpark Resort and much more in Storm Lake. People have enjoyed the pieces now for 10 years. It all was initially being marketed in a 150-mile radius, including Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Fort Dodge, Omaha and Des Moines.
"It has opened the door for people to come here and be offered more than they were 10 years ago," said Stephanie Wandrey, the controller for King's Pointe resort.
A decade in, users of King's Pointe say they enjoy coming to camp, stay in the hotel, eat in a restaurant and use the waterslides. As city officials and business people hoped, visitors also leave King's Pointe on the lake's northeast edge to head downtown for shopping and more, Storm Lake City Manager Keri Navatril said.
But some think more could be done with King's Pointe, at 1520 E. Lakeshore Drive, in particular.
The 10th anniversary of King's Pointe was accompanied by the hiring of a new management firm. The city of Storm Lake decided to pursue change, hiring a third firm in 10 years.
MANAGEMENT FIRM CHANGE
In January, the Storm Lake City Council voted unanimously to terminate its management contract with Kinseth Hospitality Companies. James Patrick, the Storm Lake city manager at the time, said the council “just wanted to go a different direction.”
On July 1 the new firm Weigand Omega Management, in Wichita, Kansas, took over, with Tony Nabhan as general manager of King's Pointe resort.
Navatril said city council members recognize Storm Lake residents want to keep the Awaysis pieces fresh.
"We are taking that feedback and working through the plan...This is a great asset and we are proud of King's Pointe," Navatril said.
Navatril said the city spent $200,000 last year and will spend another $200,000 in fiscal year 2017-18 to continue improvements at the hotel and restaurant. Other updates also will be addressed with the money.
In the first two weeks the water park was open in 2007, it had 16,360 attendees, with 42 percent from outside Buena Vista County. Nabhan said he can't release statistics such as hotel occupancy rates, sales figures or the number of water park season passes sold. He did characterize water park sales as a positive trend of growth.
Nabhan said the water park and hotel get busiest during breaks in the school year, when kids are free to travel. He said that means a huge uptick from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The 20 cars parked closest to the water park west entrance at one point last Saturday showed people traveled some distance. Out-of-state cars were from Kansas (two), Nebraska (two), Arkansas and Illinois.
Nabhan said he's noticed people are not only making Storm Lake a destination stop for a day or so, but also as a day stop on the way to more distant vacation spots.
Wandrey has worked for King's Pointe all 10 years, and lives in Schaller, 12 miles away. She said before the Awaysis additions came on line, Storm Lake was primarily a place to shop for groceries, hit some downtown shops and see a movie. Now, she points to the bike trail that preceded Awaysis and lake dredging that has made it much better for fishing.
Nabhan said he isn't surprised the water park is doing well, since there is no competing park for miles around. The closest major parks are in Des Moines, Sioux Falls and Fort Dodge. Wandrey said King's Pointe Resort draws heavily from a 200-mile radius; a lot of season water park passes are sold in a 30-mile radius.
Wandrey said the relationship with the city has been good. Nabhan plans to work on more King's Pointe tie-ins with Storm Lake businesses, "to try to help each other."
People pay a one-cent Local Option Sales Tax on many purchases, and the city's take of that tax has spiked over the 10 years since Awaysis arrived. City of Storm Lake revenue statistics show such tax receipts grew from $1,012,319 in fiscal year 2006-07 to $1,365,726 in FY 2016-17.
Meanwhile, 10 years ago, the Iowa Hotel/Motel Tax people pay in stays was $162,198. It more than doubled to $334,441 last year.
'IT IS JUST ENJOYABLE'
Scott Anderson, of Omaha, Nebraska, heard of King’s Pointe from a sister-in-law, and said the place has great word of mouth among his family and friends. He has no qualms with making the three-hour trek.
“We all travel up here. We love camping over there in the camp site. It is just such a nice, easy trip, and it is just enjoyable,” Anderson said.
“The price at the water park is great, and the price for the campground is great, $22, you can’t beat that.”
Patty Sebben, of Downers Grove, Illinois, has been coming to Storm Lake since the mid-1990s, when she dated and married a Storm Lake native. Her family comes back at least once per year.
“King’s Pointe has improved the overall experience in Storm Lake,” Sebben said.
Sebben said Regatta Grille is more upscale than many Storm Lake restaurants and the hotel rooms are nice. She would like the facility to include rentals of jet skis and boats, as is done in some of the resort lakes north of Chicago.
Nabhan acknowledged Storm Lake people aren't shy about offering tips for improvements to King's Pointe.
"You have to keep adding things to keep the attraction, to keep people coming back," Nabhan said.
Renovations are being planned by Weigand Omega for Regatta Grille. A new restaurant manager and executive chef are being sought for the high-end facility.
The campground south of King's Pointe is owned by the city. Weigand Omega also manages the golf course and a mini-golf facility, and "those are all running great," Wandrey said.
Offered Nabhan: "The community feels pride. The people feel like it is their property, it is their own."