A coloful water slide loops through the air at Daytona Lagoon in Daytona Beach. The park is undergoing a $2.3 million renovation by its new owners, United Parks. The improvements are aimed at sparking new interest in the familiar attraction across the street from Ocean Walk Shoppes on North Atlantic Avenue. News-Journal/NIGEL COOK
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By Jim Abbott
Published: Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 7:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 10:11 p.m.
DAYTONA BEACH — Fresh coats of paint adorn gleaming red and green railings. Hundreds of spanking-new lounge chairs await on the pool deck, with bright blue fabric yet to be faded by the sun.
It doesn’t take long to see the cosmetic changes at Daytona Lagoon, part of an ongoing $2.3 million renovation of the water park by its new owners, United Parks. As the park enters its busy summer season, the improvements are aimed at sparking new interest in the familiar attraction across the street from Ocean Walk Shoppes on North Atlantic Avenue.
The changes go beyond such surface appeal, said Brock Falfas, the park’s general manager.
The attraction’s punch list included everything from repair of structural steel seams on colorful elevated tubes that funnel park visitors on popular water rides such as Blackbeard’s Revenge and Adventure Mountain to installing new greaseless fryers in the kitchen. New outside diversions range from ten shaded cabanas to tables covered with chalkboard tops for children to draw on.
“You’re either the best or you’re not competing,” said Falfas, weaving his way across a pool deck crowded with families and summer camp groups on a recent afternoon. “You set the standards, do things the right way, with safety in mind.”
Behind-the-scenes improvements include a $300,000 investment in 10 pumps used to circulate 8.6 million of gallons of water per hour through the pools and rides. The company is midway through replacing coils and air-handlers on seven industrial AC units.
“We haven’t been able to control the temperature since we bought it,” Falfas said.
United Parks, a company with 40 years of experience in the amusement park industry, became the new owner-operator of Daytona Lagoon under an amended lease approved by the Volusia County Council in August 2015. The attraction is on property owned by the county-run Ocean Center convention complex.
According to the lease agreement, United Parks pays the Ocean Center a fixed annual base rent of $205,000, plus an annual signage fee of $25,000. The base term is extended through 2025, with four 9½-year tenant options. In addition, the convention center receives revenue from the county-owned parking garage used by park visitors.
The Daytona Beach attraction — with its mix of go-karts, water rides, miniature golf and arcade games — debuted in 1998 as Adventure Landing, originally built for $15 million. The park had been closed for more than two years when it reopened as Daytona Lagoon in 2005.
One of the attraction’s regular visitors has noticed the changes under the new ownership.
“They made the park more beautiful, re-did the slides, painted the balconies,” said David Lazzari, 50, of Daytona Beach. Wheelchair-bound with limited use of his legs due to a spinal condition, Lazzari has visited the water park almost daily since 2006 to get exercise in the pool. “What’s really amazing now is the people (employees). They’re more enthusiastic now. Tending to guests with a good attitude, enthusiasm and sense of purpose is what’s going to make this place grow.”
The water park’s success is “really important, not just for us, but for the whole area,” said Don Poor, Ocean Center director. “We do a lot of events during the summer, these religious events that bring 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 people in here, as well as a lot of competitive arts. So a new shiny facility for those people to go be entertained is important for this whole area.”
Adding new experiences is essential, especially for older attractions, said Robertico Croes, professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at UCF in Orlando.
“Being aware of the product life cycle is very, very important,” Croes said. “It behooves the owners and operators to keep adding things and improving the experience. That keeps people coming back. Novelty is very, very important. New things, the upgrading part.”
Two of Daytona Lagoon’s flashiest new additions are showcased in its arcade. Just inside the entrance, visitors will encounter two new movie-themed arcade games: Star Wars Battle Pod and Jurassic Park.
“We spent $30,000 on 10 brand new video games,” Falfas said. “Because of the movies, those two are the really hot games this season.”
Falfas, 31, is a second-generation amusement park executive. His father, Jack Falfas, is CEO of United Parks, a company that also owns and operates Rye Playland in Westchester County, New York, and Hydro Adventures in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
Before coming to Daytona Beach, the younger Falfas was general manager of the Missouri water park, a scenario he likened to Daytona Lagoon.
“We took it over just like this one,” said Falfas, whose previous experience includes work at Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., and Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. “It had been run into the ground, but we drew more than 100,000 visitors last year in a small town in Missouri.”
It will take cooperation to help add additional tourist attractions beyond sand and surf in Daytona Beach, Falfas said.
“It’s about winning together,” Falfas said. “It’s a matter of us all doing something to show that we’re family oriented.”