Sparks’ Wild Island introducing new fun features
To survive in the amusement park industry, Craig Buster and Scott Carothers always have to be thinking ahead.
Buster, general manager of Coconut Bowl, and Carothers, general manager of Wild Island Waterpark at Wild Island Family Adventure Park, are constantly pondering new ideas to keep customers coming through the turnstiles.
“We always have a five-year plan and we’re always looking at long-term growth in the best- and worst-case scenarios regarding the economy,” Carothers said in a recent interview with the NNBW at Wild Island.
With northern Nevada’s economy on the upswing, the business partners figured it was finally time to make some major upgrades to the park.
“Right now we’re in a best case scenario with the local economy,” added Buster, who also participated in the interview. “I think we’re actually a year too late (on our latest projects), but we’ll move fast to catch up.”
Buster and Carothers explained changes to the park have been on the table for a long time, but they were hesitant to pull the trigger.
“We could’ve gone a little faster but we chose to play a little conservative,” Carothers said. “I think most businesses like ours are going that route post-recession.”
But when Wild Island’s staff attended the 2017 Directions event presented by The Chamber of Reno, Sparks and Northern Nevada earlier this year, the talk of the region’s booming economy convinced Buster and Carothers that they’d better move quickly on improvements at Wild Island.
“I think that will be huge for us,” Buster said about the resurgent economy.
Coconut Bowl soon will undergo a 50,000-square-foot expansion project, including adding six bowling lanes, private party rooms, an outdoor patio and seating area and a two-story laser tag arena. A black light go-kart course also will be built indoors and will feature battery-powered go-karts. The current kiddie track will be moved indoors. More redemption and arcade games are on the way including Baseball Pro, Angry Birds Arcade, and Ghostbusters Arcade.
The Coconut Bowl project is expected to be completed by summer 2018 and the center would remain open during construction.
Wild Island’s waterpark will introduce a brand-new waterslide called G-Force that will debut when it opens for the summer season in May. Carothers said the 300-foot thrill ride will have guests traveling at speeds of about 25 miles per hour. The ride also will feature a kaleidoscope of colors at one turn and portions of transparent fiberglass, so those awaiting at the tower can witness other riders experience the ride’s initial heartpounding drop.
Carothers said they want to introduce a waterslide at the park every so often to keep the park fresh and exciting for guests, but will continue to cater to its main demographics — families and a growing older population that prefer more casual rides.
“You don’t won’t a park that’s all thrill rides because it’s a small niche,” Carothers said. “We have to have a good mix of family rides, thrill rides, taking into account all heights and ages.”
GuiDenby, Inc., a Reno-based architecture and general contracting firm owned by Robb and Allyson Wong, is overseeing the projects at both Coconut Bowl and the waterpark.
The park attracts 300,000 to 400,000 visitors a year, including 100,000 to 120,000 to the waterpark during spring and summer months. Buster and Carothers estimate about 60 percent of guests are locals, although they sense more visitors are coming from outside the area, especially northern California.
Carothers also mentioned the development of The Outlet at Sparks shopping center has been beneficial.
“There’s some real synergy going with the shopping center and other restaurant concepts that have come in.”
Wild Island’s staff members often discreetly meander around the park to get a general sense of guests’ attitudes of their experience at the park.
“Craig and I walk around a lot,” Carothers said. “If you go out on a busy day, you can get a sense of what people are truly feeling.”
“I’ll pick out four or five families at the park and observe if they are generally happy,” Buster added. “About every two to three years you have to add something new so it doesn’t get stale for our guests.”
Some new ideas haven’t always panned out, though. For instance, in the early 2000s Wild Island introduced a roller coaster. It was soon scrapped.
“We have kissed a few frogs over the years,” Buster said.
“We went through some restaurant concepts and the roller coaster idea was an interesting experience,” he said with a chuckle. “But I think we’ve made some strides along the way and we’re really excited about the expansion this time around.”
Wild Island began in 1989 solely as a waterpark. The Coconut Bowl entertainment center was added a few years later. Carothers began his career at Wild Island the same year it opened while Buster joined the staff in 1993.
Buster and Carothers attribute the park’s long-term success to the sound working relationship they have with Wild Island’s ownership group.
“They want to be profitable, but they want to do what’s best for the community,” Carothers said. “They’ve sometimes made decisions when it wasn’t the best business move, but they wanted to put out a good product that we feel can compete with anyone in the country.”
“The thing that I like most about entrepreneurship is I can work toward something that I’m passionate about and be at the forefront of the change that I want to see happen,” said Priyanka Senthil, a senior at Davidson Academy in Reno and co-founder of startup company AUesome.