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VIDEO: Montgomery, Ala.'s Whitewater Park Still on Schedule, Despite Rising Building Costs

Mon February 28, 2022 - Southeast Edition
WSFA 12 News & CEG

Montgomery, Ala.'s new under-construction whitewater rafting park has a hefty $65 million estimated price tag due to skyrocketing building costs, inflation and labor shortages brought on by the pandemic, WSFA-TV reported Feb. 23.

The project's pre-construction budget was about $40 million in March 2019, according to a Montgomery County commissioner, but all the unplanned extra costs have now put it an estimated $25 million over budget.

"We stayed committed to seeing the project through, but again, the timing's horrible," said Doug Singleton, a District 5 commissioner.

He told Montgomery's WSFA 12 News that building the massive entertainment district in the middle of the pandemic has not come cheap.

"We spent nearly $1 million just on cleaning and supplies and testing," Singleton explained to the TV station.

With inflation reaching its highest point in 40 years, the cost to buy and ship materials proved to be much more than originally anticipated.

Singleton noted that the city and developer spent $15 million more than planned just on materials, as well as almost $750,000 more than expected on international shipping costs and went $6.85 million over budget to compensate for labor shortages.

"I wish we had known [because then] we would have delayed or done something different."

The question remaining is how the development team will offset the over-expenditure. Singleton said he is confident federal funds allotted to the city, county and state through the American Rescue Plan will help.

"We're still working through that, but I feel very, very optimistic because it's all COVID-related and it's all revenue loss-related," he noted. "We're not going to tap into the taxpayers' dollars and we're not raising taxes to finish this project out."

Singleton said he does not think they will go over budget more than the estimated $25 million and that the offset in cost is not projected to affect the park's projected completion date of May 2023.

He added that money from the city's reserves and funds given to the project from the state and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians also will help offset the over-expenditure.

"[When it is finished], though, we will have the premier outdoor recreation facility in the United States," he predicted.

Project Seen as an Economic Driver for Montgomery

Despite the budgetary woes, Montgomery's whitewater rafting facility is beginning to take shape.

The park, being built at 1020 Maxwell Blvd., near the Alabama River, is projected to bring in nearly 300,000 visitors annually and have a $40 million yearly economic impact.

Crews broke ground at the site eight months ago, and it has been full steam ahead ever since, WSFA 12 News reported.

Plans call for the Montgomery Whitewater Project to be a world-class, Olympic-standard whitewater and outdoor activities center, designed to dramatically improve economic conditions west of downtown along the Interstate 65 corridor.

The project's website touts it as a "recreational park that will host an Appalachian River like experience all within walking distance of downtown Montgomery."

The 120-acre facility will be one of the few recirculating whitewater parks in the country and also is slated to showcase several similarly challenging and complementary features. In addition to whitewater rafting and kayaking, the park will give visitors the choice of enjoying zip-lining, mountain biking, ropes courses and climbing.

The city of Montgomery is pinning a lot of economic hopes on the whitewater park.

"This project will create a space for our residents to enjoy and bring visitors to our county in numbers we've never seen," Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean said in a statement on the project's website. "This is the type of forward thinking, quality of life project that will grow Montgomery's population by enticing millennials to move here and stay here.

"Not only will it improve the lives of citizens, but it will attract new tourists and give existing visitors a reason to stay one more night, which equates to an increase in tax revenue for the community," he said. "It will generate additional revenue, create opportunities for new and existing small and minority businesses, and add another world-class attraction to our destination."

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