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Chicago developer proposes hotel, waterpark for Corydon

Chicago developer proposes hotel, waterpark for Corydon
Chicago developer proposes hotel, waterpark for Corydon
The waterpark, similar in ways to this one that recently opened in Waukesha, Wis., would be about three-quarters of an acre under roof. Don Peeples expects such a family entertainment destination would attract 100,000 people a year.

A Chicago businessman wants to build a 108-room hotel and a three-quarter-acre enclosed waterpark that would attract hundreds of people a day to the old Keller Manufacturing Co. site in Corydon.
Don Peeples and his business partner are in the process of building their third such project, an enclosed waterpark and 108-room all-suite hotel in Fox Lake, Ill., a suburb north of Chicago a few miles south of the Wisconsin border. Peeples wants to build a similar family entertainment and tourist destination resort here on the 14.5-acre Keller site now owned by Main Street Corydon.
Peeples has been meeting privately with groups of town, county, hotel and tourist officials and a few businesspeople the last few months to tell them of his plans and to start discussions about a finance plan for the waterpark that would involve Harrison County government.
The enclosed waterpark (many of which are very successful and expanding in Wisconsin) and hotel could cost a total of about $22 million, bring many thousands of visitors each year to Corydon and Harrison County, provide many full-time and part-time jobs, and stimulate local hotels, restaurants, tourist sites, shops and businesses.
Peeples said the waterpark would be 60 to 65 feet high and three-quarters of an acre under roof, all temperature and humidity controlled. The one at Fox Lake will be 20,000 square feet and expand to 40,000 in a second phase.
The Corydon waterpark would be about 35,000 square feet, have several major slides, a 45-foot slide tower, a 10-foot-wide Lazy River for inner tubing with several ‘surprise’ water features, a ‘Cannonbowl’ that comes off a slide tower and ends in a splash pool, a wave pool, several saunas for eight to 12 people each, an arcade, lockers, and restaurant.
The waterpark could accommodate a maximum of 1,000 people. Peak visitation times would be winter and summer weekends. Peeples said he expects the waterpark/hotel here would attract 100,000 visitors a year.
The developer said the hotel design hasn’t been decided yet, but it could have a Victorian, Disney World, turn-of-the-20th century, or ‘stick’ look (see photo) with antique lighting and cobblestone walks, to fit into Corydon’s historic atmosphere. It would be four stories high, contain 90,000 square feet, and employ 80 to 85 people full-time and 15 to 20 part-time.
Peeples said it would be best if the old brick Keller building were part of the plan. It could be restored and modified for various uses, but the recent Estopinol Group report on developing that site emphasized its structural weaknesses and chemical contamination of the environment. Use of that building depends on extensive analysis of any hazardous chemical residues and possible groundwater pollution on the site.
It’s conceivable that the Keller building, which measures about 70,000 square feet, could be a community center with a museum, space for crafsmen or artists, offices and restaurant. However, much of that space may not be usable.
‘The waterparks’ ability to draw people is proven,’ Peeples told a group at a preliminary meeting here in February. He said ‘Corydon does not need to be revitalized,’ but a waterpark/hotel project for families would be a ‘highly complimentary entertainment business’ that would draw huge numbers of tourists to Corydon and Harrison County.
The hotel and waterpark would be attractive for conferences, weddings, banquets, birthdays, anniversaries, parties, weekend getaways and holiday outings.
With Caesars casinoboat not far away, ‘This could become a regional meeting venue,’ Peeples said.
Peeples said there are about 50 such waterpark-hotel projects under construction in the United States now.
Peeples has had no official formal meetings with county or town officials yet, but he said he wants to meet with them to negotiate a way for the county to perhaps float a bond issue to pay for the waterpark without using any county funds. Peeples and his partner, Marty Fishman, who own Fox Lake Enterprises, would own the hotel.
‘As a public-private venture, it’s a win-win situation,’ he said.
Peeples said the waterpark and hotel would be appropriate and complimentary to Corydon. ‘It will be elegant. Whatever we come up with will be a delight to the eye, especially in comparison to what they’re looking at now.’ He said he will meet with the neighbors, and include them in on the planning. The neighbors will have a stake in this. We’ll want their input and we’ll give them the respect they deserve.’
He said he has had no conversations yet with the owners of the LNA and C Railroad or the Corydon Jamboree, which are located just to the south of the Keller site. He said the Constitution Elm would not be disturbed.
Peeples said the waterpark business boomed after 9/11 when families started doing things together for fun on weekends without traveling great distances. There are several waterparks in Wisconsin, especially around the Dells.
Peeples, 59, got into the hotel business in 1978. He spent several years as Midwest regional director for Holiday Inns, overseeing 444 hotels, before going into a partnership with two or three others and working for the Hilton Corp. and Ramada Inns or developing hotels in Colorado and San Diego.
At one point, he and former State Rep. Brian Hasler of Evansville put in a bid to restore the West Baden Hotel, which was eventually partially restored by Indiana billionaire Bill Cook of the Cook Group in Bloomington.
Except for the possible environmental contamination, Peeples said the recent Estopinol Group’s report on the Keller site’s redevelopment possibilities fits his vision ‘like a glove.’ The new buildings would go in the Big Indian Creek flood plain, but, given Corydon’s zoning ordinance, which favors historic sites, Peeples said, ‘it’s a manageable issue.’
Peeples said the only way to promote such a venture is to be open and upfront about everything. He plans to meet with public officials and private homeowners to discuss his plans.
At a meeting in February, council chair Gary Davis asked about a timeline. Peeples said once key decisions are made and the ‘defining roles and documentation’ are accomplished, he’s looking at a two-year horizon. Peeples said Monday that he wouldn’t expect to see any construction action for one to 1-1/2 years.
‘We are sincerely interested in this,’ Peeples said Monday from Wisconsin, ‘but there’s a long way between the lip and the cup on this thing, a lot has to happen and it has to be positive. We love the town, and the people have been exceedingly nice’ and ‘generally very positive.’
He’s ‘guardedly optimistic that we can move forward. We’re guardedly optimistic, but it will take a tremendous amount of money and time. We’ve got some real serious big issues with the flood plain, toxic waste clean-up and ground water pollution, but we’re willing to tackle them. No one has rejected this concept out of hand.’