Indoor water park resort confirmed for Pittsburgh Mills mall

| Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010

The massive Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer finally is ready to get a destination attraction of the kind it touted upon opening in 2005.

A Wisconsin company said Wednesday it plans to develop an indoor water park resort beside Pittsburgh Mills on a 5-acre site originally slated for a Nascar-style entertainment racetrack.

The water park resort will be operated by Great Wolf Resorts Inc. of Madison, which runs a dozen recreation facilities across the country, including in the Pocono Mountains, the Wisconsin Dells and Niagara Falls.

Zamias Services Inc., which owns Pittsburgh Mills, will build the family oriented facility. It would include a hotel and other amenities, and sit next to the 1.1 million square-foot, indoor mall.

"If we can get our financing in order and all approvals obtained, we hope to begin construction in June with an opening by late 2011," said Stephen Zamias, president and CEO of the Johnstown company.

Plans for such a venue had been in the works for months. Under a letter of intent signed yesterday, Great Wolf Resorts will receive a management fee to operate the resort and license fees for use of the Great Wolf Lodge name. The lodge would be owned by a joint venture, with Great Wolf Resorts retaining a minority stake.

"The resort will provide the area's many residents a distinctive and memorable, year-round vacation experience," said Kim Schaefer, Great Wolf Resorts CEO.

When Pittsburgh Mills opened in 2005, the giant mall was meant to serve as an shopping and entertainment destination drawing visitors from 40 miles around. Initial plans included a three-track Nascar SpeedPark — one each for pre-teens, teenagers and adults — along with a Nascar apparel store.

Most details of the water park project were not provided, but Great Wolf Resorts typically operates entertainment areas of 40,000 to 100,000 square feet, with attached hotels with 300 to 600 rooms. Often included are spas, fitness rooms, arcades and theme restaurants.

"All of our locations feature a rustic, north woods lodge environment," said Great Wolf Resorts spokesman Steve Shattuck. The site in Frazer would follow that outline, but he said it was too early to provide details.

No cost estimates were disclosed.

Zamias did say that as the cover to the water park, his company hopes to use the type of material China used in the Beijing Olympics last summer. The "Cube" swimming center incorporated a light-weight material that allowed the sun's rays to penetrate, regardless of weather conditions.

Pittsburgh Mills features an IMAX Theatre, along with retailers such as Best Buy, Lowe's and J.C. Penney. The mall also has specialty stores such as Brookstone and Allegheny Mountain Smoked Meats & Cheese, as well as quick-service restaurants and personal-care and fitness shops.

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