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Delayed Pittsburgh Mills water park plans on tap for 2011

The national credit crunch sunk plans to being a water park to the Pittsburgh Mills shopping mall this summer, but 2011 now is the target.

"We are still working on breaking ground soon," said Joe Anthony, an executive vice president for Mills owner Zamias Services Inc. of Johnstown. "Whether it is spring or a little later, it is too early to tell."

The company announced in January that it intended to break ground in Frazer this June.

Anthony said the tight credit markets have made it difficult for Zamias to secure financing and start the project, but the situation is changing.

"The total project cost would probably exceed $75 million," Anthony said. "We are actively negotiating with several potential lenders who are interested in financing the project. We are hoping to be able to make an announcement on the status of the project in the first quarter of next year."

Although the water park will be built and owned by Zamias, it will be managed by Great Wolf Resorts of Madison, Wisc., which will lend its name to the water park resort and hold a minority stake.

Great Wolf owns and operates a dozen water parks across the country that include hotels with 300 to 600 rooms. Locations include Niagara Falls and the Poconos.

"Our agreement with Great Wolf is intact," Anthony said. "They are still full steam ahead. They are a development company so they face the same kinds of challenges that we face in this economy as well."

Great Wolf spokesman Steve Shattuck confirmed that the company is still on board.

Previously, Zamias officials would not discuss the scope of the Mills water park, which will be built on a large parcel where a NASCAR-inspired go-cart park originally was envisioned. Anthony provided a few details now, however.

"Ours will be similar in size and stature to the other Great Wolf projects," Anthony said. "We anticipated about 300 rooms and a 65,000-square-foot water park. That's still the plan."

The water park will be attached to the mall. Anthony said the design will allow mall shoppers and visitors to look into the park from the mall's common areas.

Anthony said the water park likely would attract new retailers to the mall. Pittsburgh Mills, particularly the Galleria indoor mall portion of the sprawling shopping complex, has had to deal with its share of vacant storefronts because of the economy.

But even without the water park, Anthony said the mall is drawing interest.

"We're working with some bigger retailers who would take the larger spaces, and we are working with some smaller ones as well," he said. Anthony said he expects to announce some new tenants before the end of the year.

"Retail has gotten a little better," Anthony said. "We have seen our foot traffic and our sales increase over the past 12 months."

"We have seen some of our retailers with double-digit (sales) increases," he said. "We have seen on the average, about 5 percent or 6 percent sales increases across the board."

He said the most recent store to open within the Galleria is the Sinobi HQ Korean Barbecue.

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