Entrepreneurs discuss vision for Splash Kingdom/Pharaoh's
By Toni Momberger and George Watson Shoulder to Shoulder Communications
REDLANDS -- Splash Kingdom has new owners.
Two entrepreneurs officially purchased the amusement/water park in early May and say they have big dreams but at their core, they want to make it more Redlands-centric.
Dan Martinez and Ryan Sauter say the park’s future has three stages: The immediate, as the water park just opened a new season last weekend; the next year, when critical improvements can be made; and a long-term plan that will determine Splash Kingdom’s future direction.
All of those, the new owners say, have one important condition.
“We want to embrace Redlands,” Martinez said. “We want to make it feel very local. It is going to come in time, right now just having those three elements isn’t going to be enough to make it the place it can be.
“Broadening the product offering, embracing what Redlands is about, lots more on food and beverage. That’s where we see things going.”
Martinez and Sauter, both Southern California natives, are the fourth owners of the park. Martinez has a lengthy background in strategic entertainment and leisure industries, having worked for Universal Studios and Disneyland, during which he focused in theme park development strategies. He also co-owns The Wall Restaurant in Orange with Sauter, an entrepreneur who has started and operated multiple businesses in a variety of industries. The Wall implements an innovative strategy that pairs a “pour it yourself” drinking experience with international street vendor-like food.
Splash Kingdom was first established as Pharoah’s Lost Kingdom by the Braswell family in1996. It previously featured a midway park, miniature golf, go carts and a giant swing.
The park’s relationship with the community suffered after a lawsuit involving a fall from the Ferris wheel in 2002 and worsened when the park hosted a series of raves that were conducive to drug activity and noise.
Clearwater Waterpark Development, which bought the park in 2012,aggressively rebranded in an effort to reinvigorate trust among locals. They changed the name, added a wave pool where the midway had been and put sunglasses on the massive sphinx to focus attention on the water park, and away from any other of the facility’s uses.
Redlands Mayor Paul Foster hopes the purchase is an opportunity to strengthen Redlands.
“Splash Kingdom -- well I still call it Pharaoh’s Lost Kingdom -- provides another type of entertainment for the people of Redlands. I would hope the new owners will do all they can to improve the site to make it more appealing to the residents of Redlands,” he said.
These changes have been made with good intentions but leave some uncertainty to many locals about what the facility’s future will be.
According to the owners, that remains to be determined, but it will be based in large part on what people want, which Martinez and Sauter believe means broadening dining and beverage options. The owners plan to talk to their customers in the coming weeks and months to get those answers. That means reaching out to guests who are coming, initiating a listening campaign, while reaching out to vendor partners and local government.
Martinez says they are not making decisions lightly. They are gathering data and following cues from consumers.
“Measurement is hugely important to us … (and) we are going to reach out in Spanish too, right now it is all English,” Martinez said. “Understanding our guests is import.”
The goal, he explained, is making the park a destination for all. One way to do that, he said, is to “bring a bit of the Disney philosophy to planning and design and operation.”
“We are all about creating places that aren’t home, work or school, that third place where residents can really hang out,” he said. But the owners know one thing - all improvements have to come with one thing in mind: improving the experience for all, which includes both customers and staff alike. That means creating protocols for all parts of the operation that do things like raise safety and cleanliness standards even higher and in doing so, Martinez said, explaining that helps create a camaraderie among all staff that collectively will improve the experience for all.
Each year, Splash Kingdom hires about 400 summer employees, most of which are high school and college students. One of the goals of the new owners is to ensure workers want to return the next year. General Manager Matt Keil says the park currently has a 60 percent employee retention rate. “We are absolutely dedicated to … providing education and career paths, giving people opportunities they might not have had,” Sauter said.