A big hotel with its own indoor water park is being built near Disneyland as a growing Wisconsin resort operator brings a new tourist attraction to Southern California.
Construction officially started Wednesday on a $300-million woodsy-themed inn and family entertainment complex in Garden Grove that will be the first of its kind in the region.
Unlike most other water parks in the West, the recreation areas at Great Wolf Lodge Southern California will be almost entirely indoors and accessible only to overnight guests when it opens in early 2016.
The development on Harbor Boulevard south of Disneyland is a gamble in scope and style. The suites-only lodge will have 600 rooms and its immense aqua attraction will not be exposed to the sunshine that once made Orange County an agricultural oasis.
"We are weatherproof fun," said Susan Storey of Great Wolf Resorts Inc., which already operates water parks in the frigid winters of the Midwest and baking summers of Texas. "It doesn't matter whether it's hot or cold, sunny or snowing."
Making the 100,000-square-foot water park exclusive to resort guests is central to its appeal, she said.
"It's never overrun, never overcrowded," Storey said. "And there are always plenty of towels."
Suites, which sleep at least six, will start at about $250 a night, she said. Each unit will have a refrigerator and a microwave oven.
The 12-acre hotel, resort and conference center will be developed by Colorado real estate firm McWhinney in a joint venture with co-owner and operator Great Wolf Resorts. The vast complex will have multiple recreational options under one roof intended to entertain guests' children.
Among them will be miniature golf, a motion-simulation theater, an arcade, "mini" bowling and a kid spa offering ice cream-themed manicures and pedicures. There will also be an adventure game in which kids embark on quests through the resort, and evening story time by the lodge's grand lobby fireplace.
Dining options will include a bar and grill, a pizza parlor, a hamburger joint and a sweet shop.
But the raison d'être of Great Wolf Lodge will be the water park, with zones intended for toddlers up to adults. The Howlin' Tornado slide will start in a funnel and drop six stories, and the Wolf Tail slide will take riders in a 360-degree loop.
Great Wolf hopes that its proximity to Disneyland and near other regional theme parks will encourage families to add a day at the beginning or end of their trips to include the water park or perhaps make Great Wolf Lodge their base for a Southern California jaunt.
The Garden Grove complex will be the 13th Great Wolf Lodge resort in the country.
Garden Grove has worked to encourage hotel development in recent years, City Manager Matthew Fertal said, but Great Wolf held special appeal as a branded destination with its own entertainment.
"We want something unique for Garden Grove, not just hotels for people going to Disneyland," Fertal said. "This puts Garden Grove on the map."
The city will give the developers $47 million in funds earmarked for redevelopment to help subsidize construction of the resort.
"It was a classic redevelopment site with blighted uses," Fertal said of the location on Harbor Boulevard north of the 22 Freeway. The property previously held a low-rent motel, a trailer park and a bar.
The new resort will pay the city an estimated $8 million a year in taxes, he said, mostly raised from bed taxes paid by guests.
The city has also approved a 780-room hotel project for a San Diego developer that hopes to draw people going to the Anaheim Convention Center. Anaheim officials recently approved a $180-million expansion of the convention center that is set to begin this summer.
Meanwhile, the Great Wolf Resort will be one of only a few full-service hotels to be built in the region in the last decade, said Irvine hotel industry analyst and property broker Alan Reay of Atlas Hospitality.
"Great Wolf is an established company," Reay said. "They have a great track record."
Reay said he was surprised to learn that the water park would be mostly indoors, but commended Great Wolf for being the first in the state to combine a hotel with a water park.
"This is a pioneering project for Orange County and Southern California," he said. "You have Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and this is right in the middle. It's perfect for this location."