MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Among the largest man-made whitewater facilities in the country, Montgomery Whitewater’s grand opening was celebrated Friday by a number of state and local leaders who say the park will bring significant economic growth to not only Montgomery, but the entire state.
Years in the making, Montgomery Whitewater is adjacent to the Maxwell Air Force Base, and houses a 1,600-foot Olympic standard whitewater channel and a 2,200-foot adventure channel, along with other dining, shopping and outdoor activities.
The park is a unique public-private partnership between the Montgomery County Community Cooperative District, a seven-member body of appointed government leaders, and Southern Whitewater Development Group, a private corporation involved in the development of two other world-class whitewater facilities.
“It was a passing idea five to ten years ago, but it’s been replaced with the sound of the rushing water, outdoor recreation, social opportunities, and that vision of a place for all is coming true today,” said Leslie Sanders, chair of the MCCCD.
“Now, we get to witness the opening of the most technologically-advanced whitewater rafting facility. Throughout Montgomery’s history, this city has impacted the world in many positive ways. Once again, Montgomery is going to make history across the world because of this facility; we built it, and people will come.”
A number of state and local leaders were present during the grand opening ceremony, including U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, and Montgomery State Reps. Kanyatte Hassell, Philip Ensler and Tashina Morris, all Democrats from Montgomery.
Hassell, who represents District 78 where the park is located, said that the park has already brought a significant economic boost to his district and the city at large.
“This has brought a lot of economic development to this district, a lot of life to this area, and so that’s why I’m so excited, that’s why we fought hard to try to get funding for Montgomery Whitewater,” Hassell said.
While the park is now officially open to the public, only its first phase – which includes the whitewater channels – is complete. The park’s second phase, which will include more outdoor activities like zip lines, land sports and climbing walls, is anticipated to be complete within the next two years.
The park’s third phase, which will include a hotel, is expected to commence shortly after the completion of the second phase.
Funding for the completion of the additional two phases of the park, some hoped, was to come out of the state’s Education Trust Fund, with Gov. Kay Ivey proposing back in March $25 million for the project.
Money of any amount coming from tax dollars earmarked for education proved controversial among many, though Hassell argued that Montgomery Whitewater had a significant value in the education realm.
“When this was introduced to us in the Legislature, a lot of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and Math) aspects to this project were utilized, so we could easily bring STEM students here to talks everything dealing with STEM,” Hassell said. “This is a facility that we can show, teach and use to use every entity of science, technology, anything dealing with STEM.”
As to how the remaining $20 million will be raised, Hassell said that Ivey’s office is currently “asking other entities to help finish the project.”
David Hepp, CEO of Southern Whitewater Development Group, which operates the park, said he hopes to raise the remaining funds “by running a solid business.”
“I’ve only been on the project probably a year and a half, I’ve gotten to know the local folks very well, and I’m super proud of their leadership for putting this together,” Hepp said. “This facility’s incredible, and it’s one of three (of its kind in the United States).”
Hepp was also involved in the development of the Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and said that project “changed the phase of the city,” catapulting it into the biggest tourist destination in the state. Hepp said he anticipates the same thing to happen to Montgomery.
Sewell, who just the day before visited the adjacent Maxwell Air Force Base, also felt the park could change Montgomery’s economic future for the better.
“I really expect this to be a main attraction to Montgomery; we are immensely blessed to have historic preservation and civil rights sites here, and now to have recreation go along with it, hopefully families will stay an extra day or two just to come out to the water park,” she said.
“Because it’s right off the interstate, this project has a way of booming not just Montgomery, but literally up and down I-65, and I really hope that the extension of economic revitalization will also catch the Black Belt and surrounding counties.”