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Behind the scenes at Iowa’s Lost Island Theme Park in Waterloo
Set to open in 2022, Lost Island Theme Park in Waterloo will offer themed ‘lands’ and a back story
WATERLOO — After more than a decade of dreaming and planning, Iowa’s newest theme park will open its doors next summer.
The Lost Island Theme Park is coming together on 159 acres south of the Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo.
The attraction is the brainchild of Lost Island owners Gary and Becky Bertch, who, along with their son, Eric Bertch, the water park’s general manager, have been planning the park since 2010.
Eric Bertch, the developer of the new park, said the idea for the theme park began when attendance at the water park began to plateau that year.
“And so it was around that time that we started kicking around the idea of an amusement park, and decided that doing a theme park would be a little bit more of a unique experience,” he said.
Gary and Becky Bertch are putting at least $100 million into the project. The city of Waterloo is pitching in $14 million, planning to pay off those bonds with the increased property and hotel-motel taxes the theme park will bring. The city also is spending $10 million to improve Shaulis Road, which leads from Interstate 380 to the Lost Island parks.
When it’s all said and done, the park will include five “lands,” each with a theme, that guests will be able to explore. Bertch said admission hasn’t been decided yet, but he estimated it will be between $40 and $60 per person.
The Bertches took inspiration from theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios, which have themed areas based on movies and fictional characters.
But the Lost Island Theme Park is relying on immersive storytelling to create its five lands. A story line, Eric Bertsch said, will run through the whole park, tying the experiences of the five lands together.
“So we’re building a world as well as some characters that inhabit it with a back story that guests will get to discover all at the same time,” he said.
While the park hasn’t released details about the lands or rides in the park, concept art gives clues to the park’s design.
Four of the lands are based on the elements — fire, water, Earth and air. The fifth land, called the Tamariki Kid’s Area, will be an island-themed playground with rides for younger guests.
Concept art for the “Mura Fire Clan” shows a volcano, with fire and lava, stretching above palm trees.
At the “Yuta Earth Tribe,” concept art shows overgrown stone buildings, and one building sporting a regal stone face over its entrance. A log ride can be seen in the background.
The “Awa Water Nomads” section is the most reminiscent of the Lost Island Waterpark, with concept art showing island-themed architecture, a central fountain and what looks to be a spinning ride in the corner.
The “Udara Air Kingdom” shows whirling fans and spinning rides, accompanied by rounded beige buildings.
Behind the scenes
While his family has been in the park industry for decades, Bertch said creating a theme park presents new challenges and considerations that a water park doesn’t have.
The safety requirements for a theme park are more stringent: One loose screw could cause a life-threatening accident. The family also needs to make the environment interesting and keep guests engaged as they’re walking between rides or waiting in line.
The Lost Island team drew inspiration from several parks around the country and world.
Trips to Beyond Universal and Disney and to Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France also helped inform the new park, Bertch said. The Efteling World of Wonders theme park in the Netherlands, for example, offers a fairy tale-themed park with sculptures and an immersive environment.
“We drew some inspiration from the industry in general, keeping an eye on the details and elements of a visit that aren't in-your-face attractions, but rather the environment that you're in,” he said.
When it comes to picking the rides for each land, Bertch said he wanted to have a variety to appeal to every member of a family. There will be slow, easy rides for kids, mild rides for everyone, and some faster, high-intensity rides for thrill seekers.
The rides in the park were either bought new from vendors or used, and all have been customized to fit the themes of the different lands.
“One of the elements that was very important to us is that we wanted to make sure that the rides also are part of the story and fit with the theme of the land that they're located in,” he said.
The park will be a major boon to Waterloo’s and Iowa’s economies, said Tavis Hall, director of the Experience Waterloo tourism office.
He said the developers’ most conservative estimate is that the economic impact in the first year will be $32 million, but it could potentially be twice that.
“$32 million of economic impact for three to four months is huge,” Hall said. “We’re excited to have them continue their economic impact.”
When guests visit the theme park, they’ll also be spending money in surrounding restaurants, hotels and retail stores. The estimates are for around $6 million in food and beverage, $5 million in retail and $4 million in lodging, Hall said.
The park will be the second major amusement park in Iowa, joining Adventureland in Altoona, just east of Des Moines.
Molly Vincent, a spokesperson for Adventureland, indicated the relationship between the two is friendly.
“Adventureland is a firm believer that any project, like Lost Island's theme park expansion, that can potentially bring more tourism to the state of Iowa, is a benefit for every business in that sector,” Vincent wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Lost Island’s theme park is expected to attract 250,000 to 350,000 guests in the first year, Bertch said. He said he’d be happy to be considered a national attraction, but the first year will be a test run.
“We don’t really know what we’re doing,” Bertch said with a laugh. “So we’ll see how it goes this first year — whether we’re at that national level, or if we set our sights on regional for now and maybe grow a bit before trying to attract people from across the country.”
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