As the economy begins to reopen during the coronavirus outbreak, the fate of many interactive amusement venues is still unclear.
However, officials at Big Rivers Waterpark & Adventures in New Caney, which is part of the 632-acre Grand Texas development, confirmed via a Facebook post that it moved forward with its May 23 reopening in spite of state orders.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent set of executive orders May 18 included reopening for various businesses through May 29, but the orders maintained that water parks and other amusement venues, such as amusement parks and video arcades, should remain closed.
Order violations can result in fines and/or license suspension or revocation, according to a spokesperson for the governor’s office.
In an interview prior to Abbott’s May 18 announcement, Grand Texas CEO Monty Galland said he believed many people would be ready to leave their homes. Galland had not returned multiple requests for comment by press time on May 26.
“I think people want to enjoy the sunshine,” he said. “I think more and more people will want to enjoy it throughout the summer.”
Conroe resident Jackie Singleton said she believes reopening the park is a great idea, and she intended to visit the park with her family when it reopened May 23.
“People are depressed and children are bored, a little sunlight and summer fun is just what the doctor ordered in my opinion,” she said.
Other residents are not so sure. Kingwood resident Shelly Holloway, who is immunocompromised, said she does not know when she will be able to return to Big Rivers with her grandchild, but now is not the time.
“We love the water park, but are we going to go there right now? No, that’s crazy,” she said. “I’m not going to go running around a water park with 2,000 people.”
With Abbott not announcing any new measures that would allow water parks to reopen as of press time May 26, other water parks across the state are remaining closed. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown in Spring, Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort in New Braunfels and Galveston as well as Typhoon Texas in Katy are among the water parks that are waiting for state orders to reopen.
Galland said he believes the 80-acre water park will be safe based on reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that there is “no evidence” the virus can spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds.
Additionally, Big Rivers is putting up signs enforcing 6-foot social distancing and installing hand sanitizing stations, Galland said. The company also indicated that most employees would be required to wear masks.
The park will also take reservations for 2,020 people through May, or less than 25% of its total 12,000 capacity, according to its Facebook post.
Last summer, the park saw anywhere between 1,500-7,000 parkgoers per day, Galland said.
“The park is really spread out. ... That allows people to isolate themselves within the park with their families or with their groups,” he said.
Before the coronavirus, Galland anticipated the park’s second season would attract 400,000 guests throughout the summer. While Galland said he still hopes to hit that goal, he is not expecting to.
Future of Grand Texas
The development, which has cost $50 million so far, had already experienced numerous setbacks prior to and after its inaugural season last year. Delays in getting equipment and construction pushed back the water park’s opening from June 2018 to May 2019, and planned events and concerts for the 2019 off-season had to be canceled due to Tropical Storm Imelda last September.
Galland said the success of the 2020 season determines the buildout timeline of the Grand Texas theme park. He said Big Rivers needs two consecutive successful seasons before theme park planning can continue.
Grand Texas is still looking for a Sportsplex operator, and plans for a roughly 75-acre outlet mall, Grove Factory Outlets, have changed from Galland’s original vision. An undisclosed developer of the 75-acre plat has different plans for the land, but Galland could not provide details on the development.
Galland said the park will employ 400 staff this season.
Frank McCrady, president and CEO of the East Montgomery County Improvement District, which collects a portion of sales tax from the Grand Texas development, said the park provides jobs to the area.
“From an economic perspective, it’s not only the project by itself, but it’s the development around the project,” McCrady said. “There’s some hotel development and other business development that occurs around the project other than just the project by itself.”
Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Frank McCrady's last name.