(story by Dana Larsen)
Today, it would be hard to picture Storm Lake without King’s Pointe Resort, and the rest of Project AWAYSIS that came with it. Before the expansive hotel and colorful waterparks. Minus the landmark lighthouse and sprawling Great Lawn. Missing the lively playground, cottages, mini golf, and busy Awaysis Beach.
The resort marks its 15th full season in Storm Lake this summer.
“I guess I don’t know what this community would be like without it,” Mayor Mike Porsch muses. “It is really invaluable to Storm Lake – it has brought us so many opportunities both in tourism and in amenities for our residents to enjoy.”
A massive lake dredging project emboldened Storm Lakers to think big. When they met with then-Department of Natural Resources chief Jeff Vonk to ask about the possibility of declaring a state park in Storm Lake, Vonk instead challenged the local contingent to create a plan to build tourism – and raise the money – themselves.
Storm Lake mined the last of the Vision Iowa program of that era for seed money. Amid the excitement, a multi-million-dollar bond issue passed a community vote with over 70 percent approval.
The resort has had its ups and downs over the years, but it has unquestionably spurred tourism, Mayor Porsch says. “It’s a draw. People come, and then they can see the lake, the park system, the golf course, the university and the businesses we have. It draws in the conventions, conferences and events. Without that calling card, those things don’t get seen. It gave us the focal point we needed to become a destination point in the state.”
The area that Project Awaysis addressed was once the home of Harbor House, a restaurant and later church, and an aging rectangular city pool. What is now manicured beach and promenade was a rough and rocky shoreline, bare except for an homely bathroom perched on the shore. A portion of Sunrise Park Road was moved to allow for the development.
Porsch at that time was a downtown area businessperson, and like many in the community, served on one of the multiple committees involved in getting Project AWAYSIS off the ground. Community boosters Mike Wilson and the late Gary Lalone were instrumental in leading the process, he said.
“It was cool to see the resort rising on the lakefront after it all came together. It was quite the project,” he recalls.
The development has lived up to what its planners hoped it would be, he feels.
“The idea was to create a destination, and I think it has done that,” he said. “You always have huge dreams you may not be able to reach, but the reality was that this marked a new direction for Storm Lake. It is more involved than just King’s Pointe. Because of this effort, we have a green space, a nice beach, play area, campground renovations and we’ve been able to add cabins, golf course improvements, a mini golf course and recreation trail in that area.
“This year kayaks and canoes and bikes have been added to the amenities at King’s Pointe, and I think that recreation aspect is important too,” the mayor says.
After years of setbacks the condominium project that was part of Project Awaysis is finally being completed much as it was originally envisioned, adding much needed housing options. One upscale building is close to opening, and another planned to follow.
Today, King’s Pointe operates the hotel, indoor and outdoor waterparks and Regatta restaurant on the property, and also the adjacent golf course, mini golf and tourist cabins. The resort played a leading role in establishing the new Kids’ Fest celebration in Storm Lake this summer. It is also drawing in a series of musical performers.
Still, there are lingering misconceptions about the success of King’s Pointe. “The reality is that it is making money,” Mayor Porsch said. He also noted that the resort is self-supporting. Although it is a rare community-owned resort, operations are funded by its own revenue. “It has helped us to see great gains in sales tax and hotel/motel tax revenue, but you really can’t put a dollar figure on what it means to the community.”
The passing of 15 years also means that the resort has some miles on it. “We will need to continue to give the resort attention, adding to the waterpark, renovating the public spaces and improving the guest rooms. You can’t have a resource like this without planning to upgrade it over time,” Mayor Porsch says. “The City is working hard to maximize the opportunities that having King’s Pointe provides – it is such a good centerpiece to build around.”
While the community has grown steadily throughout the era since Project AWAYSIS, King’s Pointe has also seen its share of increases, weathering even a pandemic period that sorely tested the hospitality industry.
KING’S POINTE BY THE NUMBERS
Roughly 20,000 hotel room nights are sold per year, with an estimated 60,000-70,000 guests. Summer sees 12,000-15,000 waterpark admissions, averaging over 500 frolickers per day.
Over its 15 years, King’s Pointe has generated $2,044,982 in Hotel/Motel Tax revenue, which is the City’s main funding source for recreation projects, cultural events and local agency contributions.
In the fiscal year prior to King’s Pointe opening, $860,000 was collected in Local Option Sales Tax. In the fiscal year that just ended, Local Option Sales Tax revenue was $1,563,000, an 82% increase.
Last year King’s Pointe spent approximately $2,873,000 on local purchases, services and wages.Over $40,000,000 of direct local economic impact has been seen since the doors opened.
Even though it is a City-owned property, King’s Pointe does in fact pay property taxes, over $2,500,000 to date, $218,000 for the current year.
Although COVID, storm damage and extended closures of the waterpark and restaurant have presented challenges, King’s Pointe has bounced back this year with very encouraging results. Last month was the 3rd biggest June in the history of the resort, with $504,525 in revenue resulting in a $99,314 profit.The Regatta restaurant posted its best results in nearly five years, with $153,418 in revenue and a $26,440 profit. July is looking to break records as well, approaching $800,000 in property-wide revenue.
For the past year, despite a COVID closure and rising costs for supplies, the resort posted $3,908,887 in total revenue, a $647,346 increase over prior year, and a profit of over $192,000.The Regatta, even with a closure, generated $1,142,224 in revenue, a 44% increase over last year.The outdoor waterpark bounced back as well, with $317,673 in revenue, besting the previous year by nearly $36,000.
Over $430,000 was invested on property maintenance and repairs, a 25% increase over the previous year, without taxpayer expense.
All profits generated by King’s Pointe go back into King’s Pointe, improving the resort, adding amenities, sponsoring events and reinvesting in the community as a whole.