POCONO MANOR — Todd Nelson could have been standing near a golden shovel and a pile of dirt in Virginia or on the eastern side of Monroe County Tuesday morning.
Instead, the founder and chief executive officer of Kalahari Resort was in the village of Pocono Manor to break ground for the first phase of a $350 million project that will bring another indoor water park, hotel and convention center to the region. More than 1,500 jobs are also expected.
As Gov. Tom Corbett and 200 other invited guests looked on, Nelson spoke about how the Tobyhanna Township supervisors and the state were so persuasive and cooperative that he just had to open his third resort in Pocono Manor.
He recounted a story of township supervisors flying out to Sandusky, Ohio, where another Kalahari Resort property is located to push for the resort to build in their municipality. Signaling out Supervisor Anne Lamberton in particular, he said: “When I said ‘no, we’re not going to Tobyhanna Township,’ she said ‘yes you are.’ ”
About two years later the project is moving forward with an expected opening of either May or June 2015.
The first phase, with a price tag of $230 million, will be built on 150 acres adjoining the Inn at Pocono Manor property. It includes 457 guest rooms and suites in addition to a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park and seasonal outdoor water park and a 65,000-square-foot convention center with 15 meeting rooms. In addition it will include a 30,000-square-foot family entertainment center, 6,000 square feet of retail space and three full-service restaurants.
Kalahari Resorts, which has venues in Sandusky, Ohio and Wisconsin Dells, Wis., features African-themed decor including art, furniture and handicrafts from African artisans, according to the company website.
“The Pocono Mountain area is one of the premiere vacation destinations for families and young adults, not only on the East Coast but in the entire country. We’re excited to be a part of this community and are looking forward to expanding the Kalahari experience to the East coast,” said Nelson.
He said there was a plan to build in Fredericksburg, Va., but then the recession hit and financing became an issue. Then the plan shifted to Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County. But then Tobyhanna Township came calling and the rest is history.
Morris Bailey, owner of the 3,000-acre Pocono Manor resort, said that he sees the addition of Kalahari as another rung in the ladder in the climb toward making Pocono Manor “a destination resort for the East Coast.” He said the resort will draw guests to the Poconos from the state, the region and beyond.
Boost for Poconos
“It will be a tremendous benefit,” Baily said. “It will create tremendous momentum for the Poconos and will re-position the Poconos … This will be a kickoff of great growth for the Poconos.”
State Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Mount Pocono, said, “Today is a defining moment for this commonwealth, for this area. I thank you for picking this area.”
While the water park is a huge draw, in both size and tourism dollar potential, it’s the resort’s potential second phase that has tourism officials most interested.
That phase would bring 300,000 square feet of exhibit space to the resort, making it one of the largest convention center spaces in the state.
Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carl Wilgus said that sort of convention space will be able to land major conferences that the Poconos would not have been able to attract previously. He said his staff has sent a dozen leads to Kalahari for 2016 bookings.
The resort’s location, right off of I-380 and close to both the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-80, gives it access to New England, metro New York, Philadelphia and other markets.
“This opens up broader opportunities for events,” Wilgus said.