Muskegon is home to a private, for-profit amusement park complete with six roller coasters, 22 water slides and three wave pools.
Michigan's Oakland County, home to remarkable economic growth, prosperity, and private
investment, may not resemble a desert, but regional planners decided to build an aquatic
oasis for residents of the Detroit-area municipality anyway. The result? Waterford Oaks
Waterpark, a 145-acre, county-owned and operated recreational complex that attracts
residents and nonresidents alike, while devouring hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax
subsidies. Privatization-the transfer of government assets to the private sector-could
both preserve this water wonderland and rescue Oakland taxpayers from an annual sea of red
Waterford Oaks, completed in 1977 (constructed for $1.7 million) boasts an outdoor wave
pool, two water slides, an aquatic play land for children, ten tennis courts (including
two platform courts), a full BMX dirt bike racetrack, a toboggan run, shuffleboard areas,
and several pavilions. In 1997, 73,250 people visited the tax-funded park during the
summer. Adult nonresidents were charged $12 for day passes, adult residents paid $9,
children's passes were $6, and groups and seniors received special discounts. The winter
toboggan run attracted 13,429 people at respective rates of $8, $6, and $4. In 1998, the
park increased its summer rates by $1.
Despite these user fees, however, Waterford Oaks's revenue has not kept pace with its
annual operating expenses for many years. From 1992 to 1997, the park overspent its budget
by $221,468. Its proposed budget for fiscal year 1999 is $874,386, more than a 55%
increase over its 1998 actual budget of $562,578. Based on the adopted 1999 budget,
expenditures since 1992 have risen an astounding 226%.
Must Oakland County taxpayers foot such a large bill to entertain themselves and
visitors from neighboring counties? Residents of Muskegon County might say no. They have
access to everything Oakland County has and more-and all paid for without one dime of
county tax revenue. Muskegon is home to Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park, a 220-acre,
privately owned park that provides many of the same attractions offered by Waterford
Oaks-and more. Consider a list of attractions that can be found at Muskegon's private
Six roller coasters including the third largest wooden roller coaster in the country,
22 total water slides in six different groupings, a miniature golf course, a giant gondola
wheel, carousel, Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler and Flying Trapeze rides, a game arcade, and
three wave pools, each capable of different styles of wave action. In 1998, visitors paid
as low as $15 for full, day-long access to over 40 attractions. "Michigan's Adventure
is successful because we give our customers the most fun for their dollar," said
Roger Jourden, owner of the park. "Last year was our best year ever; we set records
in attendance with nearly 500,000 visitors from 40 out of the 50 states."
The park, which is open from May to September, was purchased by Jourden for $115,000 in
1968, when it had only a few small rides. "I've been in this business for 30 years
and when I started there were no water slides or wave pools," he said. "The
market forced me to add these water rides."
The new "Wild Water Adventure" area was necessary to continue attracting
customers, said Jourden, because smaller water parks were popping up in the Muskegon area
to fill consumer demand that he was neglecting. "I would have lost a lot of customers
if I had not added water attractions," he said.
The location of Michigan's Adventure near Muskegon suggests that a privatized Waterford
Oaks could attract much more business than it does currently. Oakland County has 9 times
the population and more than double the average income of Muskegon County: In 1996,
Oakland residents earned an average income of $38,127 as compared to Muskegon County's
Waterford Oaks could benefit more from being near a greater number of people with more
Both economic and demographic considerations suggest that privatization of Oakland
County's Waterford Oaks Waterpark could earn additional tax revenue for the county rather
than draining it from taxpayers. Privatization is a win-win situation for Oakland
residents, who would continue to enjoy fun in the sun at the local water park-without
being pulled under by unnecessary taxes.