Kalahari Resort’s elephant-sized, convention-center footprint in Wisconsin Dells is about to undergo a growth spurt, with the entire area’s tourism industry expected to benefit as a result.
A group of dignitaries including several members of the Nelson family, the Dells-based owners of the African safari-themed resort that helped changed the face of the area’s tourism and convention industries, officially broke ground Oct. 5 on a 112,000-square-foot addition to Kalahari’s existing convention center.
The planned $35-million expansion, that had preliminary construction begin at the eastern parking lot of Kalahari’s property near Highway 90/94, will double the size of what already ranks among the area’s largest convention facilities.
Doubling Kalahari’s convention center size “will help us meet current and future business, and it’s also going to drive tourism to Wisconsin Dells,” said Travis Nelson of Kalahari Resorts and Conventions during his brief remarks announcing the expansion prior to the groundbreaking ceremony.
A $10 million tax improvement financing incentive for the project from Lake Delton was approved by the village board last spring at the recommendation of the village finance committee.
Participation in the groundbreaking ceremony by Wisconsin Deputy Secretary of Tourism Sarah Klavas showed the significance of the project for the state’s leading tourism destination.
The expansion’s addition of significant convention space without accompanying sleeping rooms will equal more visitors to hotels and resorts across the area as well as to Kalahari Resort, said Lake Delton Village President John Webb.
“It’ll be a big boost for the entire area,” Webb said. “It means more room nights across the area.”
Webb’s assessment was shared by the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau, which also had representatives on hand for the ceremony.
“We firmly believe that Wisconsin Dells is a premier travel destination in the Midwest and are thrilled that more guests will be able to experience our one-of-a-kind offering while visiting the area for conventions and meetings,” said Sarah Hudzinski, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Bureau.
The addition is scheduled to open in September 2019 and include a 52,000-square-foot-ballroom — more than twice the size of the resort’s two existing ballrooms — and 10 additional meeting rooms, bringing the resort’s meeting room total to 45, according to a news release announcing the expansion.
The expansion also will extend the nationwide reach of Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, which owns and operates properties in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and Sandusky, Ohio and plans to open a new property in Round Rock, Texas in 2020, according to the news release announcing the Dells convention center expansion.
Travis Nelson, son of Kalahari founders and Wisconsin Dells natives Todd and Shari Nelson, noted the historic nature of the occasion, both for the company his family owns, operates and continues to build and for the area where it all began.
“When we opened Kalahari in 2000, it was unthinkable to have bathing suits and business suits at one resort,” Nelson said. “It took quite an effort to convince people a convention center was important to a water park resort, and now after all these years you wouldn’t dream of opening an indoor water park without a convention facility.”