Park improvements continue by West Lake Okoboji

Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Photo by Seth Boyes

The public came together to save Arnolds Park Amusement Park in 2012, raising $7 million to keep the local landmark from being developed. The now-nonprofit park has kept the momentum going with the Historic Arnolds Park Incorporated Board's "Restore the Park" campaign. The HAPI Board announced plans last May to give major facets of the park a facelift and crews have been working through the cold winter months to keep the project on pace.

"We're excited about the 2018 season, and the park has never looked better," Park CEO Charley Whittenburg said. "We'll continue to improve it."

The park secured financial support from the surrounding municipalities and the county government as part of a state Community Attraction and Tourism Grant application. The state awarded the park $935,000 in November. The park also sought donations from the general public for the $12 million project.

"We're still got a little bit to cover, but it's going quite well," Whittenburg said.

The CEO said fundraising efforts slowed down over the winter months, but he expects the pace will increase again as the weather warms up in the near future.

The park's improvements were divided into three phases initially, but plans were adjusted after local medical staffing company GrapeTree announced plans to move to the former Boji Bay Funhouse and Pavilion in Milford. Boji Bay housed several historic items from the park's former funhouse for a number of years. The Wells and Penne families, who owned Boji Bay, along with former GrapeTree CEO Tim Kinnetz, decided to donate the iconic giant slide, sugar bowl and the barrel to the park's Maritime Museum.

"We've kind of grown the project into what will probably be phase four," Whittenburg said. "By and large, phase two will be complete by the time summer starts."


Crews adapted the expansion plans for the Maritime Museum in anticipation of the large-scale donations. Staff members said the museum's collection will essentially be divided into two halves maritime items and amusement park items.

"The new museum the amusement park museum is going to be pretty spectacular because of the sugar bowl, the barrel and the slide," Maritime Museum Curator Mary Kennedy said.

Kennedy confirmed the slide and the sugar bowl have already been moved indoors.

"The barrel is still in storage and will come at a later date," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said work is coming along, and she hopes the facility will be largely ready for public viewing with perhaps some interior work remaining by mid-to-late June. The new facility will feature a entryway on the eastern side of the building, from which the public can access the Maritime Museum, Amusement Park Museum and the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. The Maritime Museum already included a small display of amusement park items, according to Kennedy, and the items will be integrated into the new collection. She said the museum's artifacts will be reshuffled and rearranged a bit as they make the transition and a few items will be making a debut.

"One item I'm really excited about that just came in is a 100-year old tent," Kennedy said.

She said the donor's parents were married in the 1930s and actually honeymooned in the tent. Kennedy said nostalgia is very popular and many visitors are excited to once again see items they recognize from years past. She expects nostalgia among visitors will be amplified by the addition of the amusement park items.

"I've always said there's something for everyone in the Maritime Museum," she said. "They're going to go bonkers with this."


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Nearby, the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Hall of Fame is also preparing to move into its new location. Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Executive Director Cindy Sandbro said the new 3,000 square-foot location will be three times as large as the current museum. Stanbro said the park, which owns the buildings on site, plans to have things ready for the new museum by spring and the association hopes to phase in the artifacts and displays during the summer, while continuing to make internal improvements through the following year.

The association has launched a $1.5 million fundraising campaign to finance new displays, interactive learning stations and other aspects of the improved museum. Stanbro explained, while the "Restore the Park" campaign has opened the door for facility improvements, the association is a separate non-profit from the park, meaning the Hall of Fame's funding is not included in the campaign.

When last the director checked on the winter construction project, utility work had begun and insulation had been installed. The temperature was warmer in the empty future site than in the museum's current location, as Stanbro recalled, which will be an added benefit.

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"It's going to be a phenomenal difference," she said. "One of the challenges we've had is several of our artifacts need to be temperature-controlled."

The new location will feature a recording studio, soundproof instrument play area, a radio station, stages and interactive learning stations meant to lead young minds toward possible careers, such as a DJ, sound equipment specialist or simply a music teacher. The director said the new facility may be able to schedule educational programs year-round and broaden its reach by providing online resource material on the state's musical history.

She anticipates the funding for these improvements will be split equally between several large donors some who have already come forward and small grassroots donations from local patrons.

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"I think what's important is, because this is just an atypical campaign, people can still make contributions to this campaign be part of it on a much lower level," Stanbro said.

Stanbro said some of the musicians commemorated in the museum walls have also come forward to lend support. One of the hall of fame's 2015 inductees The Castels made a donation to the association earlier this year and challenged other performers to do the same.

"We have a really great support system with inductees inside and outside of the state," Standbro said. "They really care about this museum."


While both the museums are changing the Majestic Pavilon's interior, Whittenburg said more changes are scheduled for the exterior. GrapeTree also to plans donate the Boji Bay performance stage to the park. Whittenburg said the park's existing stage base will remain in place and the Boji Bay stage's roof and supports will be installed on the site this fall. The CEO estimated the stage will be ready for for use by the summer of 2019.

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The third phase of improvements will largely consist of the renovation and restoration of the Roof Garden.

"In the fall of 2018, we'll tear the existing Roof Garden down and start construction on the new Roof Garden," Whittenburg said.

The renovations aim to replicate the aesthetic from the historic dance hall's hay day, while bringing the structure up to modern standards, according to the CEO.

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The last phase of the improvement project will largely be centered on improving the lakeshore boardwalk and remaining utilities, according to Whittenburg. But after finishing physical improvements to the popular tourist attraction, the HAPI Board will be looking to sustain the park's financials. The board intends to establish an endowment fund to sustain the ongoing capitol improvement projects in the park. Whittenburg said the endowment will likely reduce the frequency with which the park seeks funding directly from the public. The CEO stressed the park's public purposes during several fundraising presentations.

"You don't have to pay us to come to the amusement park," he said. "You can come spend time down there. You can bring a sack lunch. You can use our beach. So, it serves that nonprofit purpose of community-mindedness."

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