Schlitterbahn: the word seems vaguely naughty. But within a couple of years it may well become a staple of the vocabulary of local fun-seeking kids..
That's because after years of wrangling, development of the massive water park (schlitterbahn is German for "slippery road") has come closer to reality, with the city poised to purchase the land on which it will rise.
"It'll be the biggest and baddest park we've ever built," said Jeff Henry, whose family owns the Texas-based company. The park will have "groundbreaking technology that we've yet to apply anywhere else," he said. "Some of it is very, very cool."
Five years ago, the city selected Schlitterbahn to bring its water slides, wave pools and treehouse-style hotel rooms to the Fort Lauderdale Stadium property next to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, which owns the site.
Every time a deal was reached, it seemed, a new obstacle would be raised by the Federal Aviation Administration, which wanted the city-run airport to receive a fair rent for the property.
But now the city and Schlitterbahn are on the verge of signing a lease that will shift the project into high gear.
"Once we sign the lease, we are committed," said Joe Cerrone, president of Recreational Design & Construction, which is working with Schlitterbahn on the project. He anticipates a spring 2018 opening.
Schlitterbahn opened its first park in 1979 and now has four in Texas and one in Kansas City, Kansas. The Kansas park is home to Verruckt. Not only is it the world's tallest water slide at 168-feet-7-inches, it also has a second, 50-foot drop.
That's the kind of thrill Fort Lauderdale visitors can expect, Henry said. He declined to discuss new rides because he doesn't want to give away secrets his competitors could take advantage of.
"It'll be a year-round facility that'll have everything all of our other parks have and then some new stuff," Henry said. "We're always working on new, crazy things."
The last outside obstacle to the park was removed this month when the FAA agreed the property isn't needed for future airport expansion, allowing the city to buy the land from the airport. The city's first $1.3 million payment on the $12.1 million purchase is due Aug. 1.
Schlitterbahn's price tag for the park, put at $110 million in 2010, is probably higher now because the cost of construction materials has risen, Henry said. The park will be substantially larger than Rapids Water Park in Riviera Beach.
The 64-acre site includes Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a one-time spring training home for the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, and Lockhart Stadium, where the Fort Lauderdale Strikers soccer team plays. It is a half-mile west of Interstate 95, north of Commercial Boulevard.
The park will include coasters that shoot patrons up slides as well as down. Its river ride will have rapids and drops. Its waterways are interconnected so visitors never have to climb out of their inner tubes. Deluxe treehouse-styled hotel rooms will line the resort.
You won't have to pay to park and there won't be rental fees for inner tubes, life jackets or the use of picnic tables. You can even pack a cooler and bring your own lunch.
The main portion of the water park will be built on Fort Lauderdale Stadium, with the old facade fashioned into a castle-like park entrance. Schlitterbahn will also build four soccer fields on the south end of the property for use by schools and athletic organizations.
And the project will renovate Lockhart Stadium. The company, Henry said, has considered water park elements that "went all the way around and all the way through" Lockhart.
The company had been talking about developing the project in phases, but Henry said Thursday he hopes it can be done "all at once." Company officials will meet with Striker representatives to "gauge their interest in possibly managing and funding the improvements to the stadium in some form," Cerrone said.
Broward County hasn't had a major water park for more than 20 years, since Six Flags Atlantis closed in Hollywood. While Atlantis was a popular spot, its property along I-95 became too valuable and it was developed into Oakwood Plaza.
Henry said he's had his eye on the airport property for 16 years.
"It'll probably be the best water park that's ever been built," he bragged. "It's my last one probably."