PORTER | Times have been more bitter than sweet in the last few years at Splash Down Dunes Water Park, according to Owner Paul Childress.
Childress said he's relieved to close the park after recent bouts with the Porter County Health Department and the Town of Porter regarding increased chlorine levels in pools and building code violations.
Normally after the summer season, he said he would be managing landscaping projects, improving buildings at the park or breaking down equipment. Instead, the winding slide remains up and empty garbage cans are stacked under seating areas. Childress said bankruptcy has been ruled out and he anticipates there will be an auction of park equipment and real estate within the next couple months.
"My ability to put forth a sincere effort in this water park has declined drastically," Childress said. "Why would I put effort, time and money into this? I didn't see how I could make a buck here."
The 37-acre park, the county's only water park, opened to the public in June 1994. Childress he never intended to run the park after being one of more than 20 original investors. But four years later, Childress, his now ex-wife Debbie McCormick and former business partner Fred Pearson helped the park remain open after financial problems.
At the end of this season, Pearson is still owed $2.35 million and Childress hopes to get anything he can out of the park.
He said the reports of buildings potentially being unsafe contributed to the 40 percent year-over-year attendance decline. The park's best financial performance was in 2005.
Childress admitted that the last two years he didn't put as much effort into operations as in years past because it seemed that the future of the park was in jeopardy.
"I've had my fill of the whole thing," Childress said.
Keith Letta, administrator for the Porter County Health Department, said the department's program of monitoring pools has been "well received by virtually everyone else" aside from Childress. Letta said although Childress may have a problem with the methodology used to test pools, the park owner didn't have the proper safety equipment on-site and equipment to test for elevated chlorine levels.
The water park has had only one major injury since it's inception, Childress said, and that county-required equipment such as a shepherd's crook with a 16-foot pole could be a hazard for other people in the pools.
Childress said employees and members of the community don't want to see the park closed and added Porter County would lose because it is losing one of its largest taxpayers. In the short term, Childress said he plans to continue working as branch manager of Warren, Mich.-based CEC Controls Inc.'s Chicago office in Chesterton.