Coaster opens 2017 at Foley “Field of Dreams”
At the corner of the Foley Beach Express and County Road 20, cranes spear the skyline and water trucks are tamping down the dust. Construction crews are raising a hotel and event center, and that’s just the beginning. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is developing one square mile into a destination attraction including thrill rides, concert venues, dining, and a man-made lake, from whence the property gets its name: Owa.
Owa is a Muscogee Creek Indian word meaning “big water.” The 14-acre lake will be the centerpiece of the development, a place for families to go boating or line the shore for fountain shows. A 1.5-acre island will hold a 300-seat amphitheater, ideal for events from concerts to weddings.
Surrounding the lake, an idealized rural town will soon take shape. The idea is to create a slice of Americana where people of all ages can enjoy Southern hospitality, exciting rides, world class dining, and quality entertainment. The head of the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), Tim Martin calls Owa a “renaissance of a city that was, a city that is, and a city that can be.”
Right now, the property is mostly open field. By spring, Martin says the roller coaster will be open. That coaster, by the way, will be the second longest in the country, built by Zamperla, the Italian firm that created the Thunderbolt at Coney Island. The first riders are expected to board in May.
It’s not a case of ‘if you build it, they will come,’ Martin says. For the most part, the audience is already in Baldwin County.
The beaches of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores draw more than six-million visitors each year. Those visitors are part of the reason the Tanger Outlets shopping center is one of Tanger’s busiest properties. The growing Foley Sports Complex – adjoining the Owa property – also draws thousands of people for state, regional, and national tournaments.
Martin says the goal is to create an attraction that will complement those existing draws – beaches, shopping, sports – giving visitors something else to do while they’re here and a reason to stay another couple of days. The park itself is expected to draw another one million tourists to the area.
Poarch Creek's Tribal Chair and CEO, Stephanie A. Bryan, says "Not only will [Owa] create thousands of jobs, it will also mean Foley is no longer a place that people drive by, it's a place they drive to, whether it's for a tournament, amusement park, getaway, or a great dinner."
More than 30 contractors are working on the project, and Martin says CIEDA will push for their best work and their best times. Phase One – including the Marriott TownPlace Suites, the first restaurants, and that roller coaster – is scheduled to open next summer.
Their first ride will be delivered by the end of the year. During a press event on November 2, Martin revealed that the ride will be featured during an expo hosted by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions this month in Orlando. After the event, it will be delivered – and covered – until the park is ready to open.
The Poarch Creek Band expects to invest more than half a billion dollars in Owa. Contractors have already put in more than 100,000 man hours, and construction is just beginning. Eventually, hundreds of people will be on the payroll at Owa, and thousands more will gain indirect employment. When the complex is complete, it’s expected to generate $244 million dollars a year to Baldwin County’s economy.
Martin said pricing is still not set, but they want to keep Owa affordable for families. Options will include a full-access wristband and tickets for individual rides.
The first riders are expected to board the roller coaster in May. The grand opening, though, is just the beginning. Phase Two is scheduled to open in 2018, and the long term plan includes a water park, luxury RV resort, condominium, and additional hotels.