New entertainment and dining options, at least 700 jobs and millions of dollars in tax money are expected to flood into Round Rock this year with the opening of Kalahari Resorts & Conventions.
The resort—located at Kenney Fort Boulevard and Hwy. 79—will open with 975 hotel rooms, a 200,000-square-foot convention center, the largest indoor water park in the country, an outdoor entertainment space, restaurants and more in November, the family behind the development said.
Kalahari Resorts & Conventions is a family-owned business that operates three other resorts in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“We felt a pull to Texas for our first location in the Southwest,” said Natasha Lucke, owner and interior designer with Kalahari. “Round Rock proved to be very business-friendly and had the close community, family feel that is important to us.”
In 2000, Todd and Shari Nelson founded Kalahari in Wisconsin. Twenty years and four resorts later, Lucke said the Nelson family will celebrate the business’s 20th anniversary with the opening of America’s newest—and largest—indoor water park in Round Rock.
In preparation for the grand opening in November, Kalahari is actively hiring directors and managers and will continue hiring through the opening date, staff said.
The resort is expected to provide a broad range of jobs—from part-time work to upper management roles, Round Rock City Manager Laurie Hadley said.
“It runs the gamut in terms of opportunities for employment, not only for Round Rock but for all of Williamson County,” she said.
These opportunities—for high school students as well as unskilled, semi-skilled and highly-skilled workforces were a critical aspect to recruiting Kalahari in Round Rock, Hadley said.
“We’re always looking for businesses that are going to bring jobs and have some benefit to the community,” she said.
Most amenities at the resort are not restricted to overnight guests. An adventure park, outdoor entertainment space, restaurants, a coffee shop, a piano bar, and retail areas will be open to the public, Lucke said.
“We designed the Round Rock resort to be very welcoming and accessible to local guests,” she said.
Water park day passes will also be available for local residents, based on resort occupancy.
“I can envision this area as another entertainment district,” Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan said. “With Dell Diamond across the street, I see this pocket of entertainment as one that our citizens can enjoy and that will also bring visitors to Round Rock.”
East of I-35—where Kalahari is currently under construction—residents have relatively fewer options for dining out than in other parts of the city, Hadley said.
“A lot of our restaurants are on the west side,” she said. “This adds a new dimension to the city.”
The Round Rock resort will be a $550 million investment, according to Kalahari projections. In 2016, the city of Round Rock entered into several funding and development agreements with Kalahari.
The city is taking on debt—$40 million to build the convention center—and $30 million to make improvements to the site. All debt the city incurs will be paid off with tax revenue from Kalahari, per city documents detailing the economic incentive agreement.
After the debt and incentive payments, the city expects to net an average of $4 million a year in tax revenue over the first 10 years Kalahari is operational, per city documents.
“As much as any of us don’t like paying property taxes, a Kalahari, a Dell, these companies pay about 46% of our property taxes,” Morgan said. “They spread that out so it’s not all falling on the backs of homeowners.”
The economic development agreement stipulates that the city owns the land, which will be leased to Kalahari for up to 99 years. The city also owns the convention center, and Kalahari is responsible for its maintenance.
Residents have expressed concerns about an influx of traffic on Hwy. 79 and surrounding roadways.
If the city had not moved forward with plans for Kalahari, the land likely would have been developed into a roughly 1,400-home subdivision, Hadley said. With a residential development of that size, the demand on city and public school services would have outweighed the property tax generation, she said.
“Kalahari is not going to put nearly the same pressure on those services that a 1,400-home development would,” Morgan said.
Still, Morgan said, the reality is traffic will increase on Hwy. 79 as visitors come for the water park, for conventions and other events.
“We’re going to have traffic,” Morgan said. “I don’t want to minimize that. The upsides to our city will be—I don’t think you can put a price tag on it ultimately.”
In addition to driving traffic, the development is expected to be an ongoing economic stimulator, Hadley said.
“There’s just so much opportunity, so much potential there that we don’t even know yet what it will do for us,” she said.
This will be Round Rock’s first resort-like hotel and the only hotel in town with a convention center, Hadley said. While the Marriott and a few other local hotels offer conference space, Kalahari’s 200,000-square-foot convention center offers an “untapped market” for business travel, she said.
“It’s hard to predict the future,” Morgan said. “I don’t know if 25 years ago people could have foreseen the impacts Dell would have on Round Rock. But now we have seen the impact and what it continues to do.”
Author: Taylor Jackson Buchanan