FOLEY, Ala. (AP) - A new amusement park in coastal Alabama is pushing toward a mid-July opening and expects to hire 400 seasonal workers through upcoming weeks.
Auditions to work at “The Park at OWA” - the amusement park section of the 520-acre resort under construction in Foley - will begin on Sunday and continue into June. Seasonal employment opportunities will include include food and beverage, retail, ride operations, park services, and more.
The amusement park is part of the overall project named “OWA,” the first major non-gaming development in Alabama backed by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The federally recognized tribe owns and operates three bingo casinos in state; none of that is planned at OWA in Foley.
“We’re a different place, and OWA is trying to set a different standard,” said Kristin Hellmich, spokeswoman with OWA.
OWA will not be accepting “in-person or walk-up applicants” on Sunday, she said. Instead, applicants first go to the website WorkAtOWA.com to set up an audition. Then, a pre-screening takes place before prospects are able to attend a closed audition.
Hellmich said that OWA seeks “energetic applicants,” and emphasized that those who miss out Sunday will “have other opportunities.”
The hiring process kicks off what will is a flurry of activity at the future amusement park located on the Foley Beach Express, about nine miles from the Gulf Coast beaches.
“OWA is going to be a game changer for the Gulf Coast,” said Lee Sentell, executive director with the Alabama Department of Tourism. “This is, I believe, the largest entertainment complex that is opening in the country this summer.”
Hellmich said that OWA will soon announce more details, such as giving ticket prices, setting a hard opening date and perhaps revealing tenants for restaurants.
For now, plans are moving forward to open the amusement park portion of the development that will feature 21 rides highlighted by the Rollin’ Thunder roller coaster. Several national publications have heralded Rollin’ Thunder as one of the most anticipated new thrill rides in the U.S. for 2017.
Part of the initial phase is a new 150-room Marriott TownPlace Suites, which Hellmich said will open in June.
“We look forward to being a good community partner and growing the existing tourism market and bringing new alternative attractions for locals,” said Hellmich. “We have a great team here helping us gear up to make it happen. Everyone is working at a feverish pitch.”
OWA, which was unveiled last November, was initially expected to open Memorial Day weekend. But Hellmich said that weather delays pushed back some of the construction, which she said was initially given an “aggressive timeline.”
“We can’t control Mother Nature, and that’s been the biggest issue,” she said, referring to an initial construction project estimated at $240 million.
Said Foley Mayor John Koniar: “Sure, we’d like to have had it open yesterday. But it is what it is. There are 1,000 to 1,100 workers out there, day-to-day. It’s not for a lack of trying.”
OWA will augment a nearby $40 million sports complex, which was developed by the city of Foley and includes 16 new soccer fields and a new $16 million, 90,000-square-foot indoor events center.
That sports complex is being paid for through two bond issues that the city endorsed, one to be repaid in 25 years and the other in 30 years.
OWA also comes at a time that Baldwin County’s tourism continues to skyrocket.
State tourism data released last week shows that Baldwin attracted a record 6.3 million visitors in 2016, besting the previous record 6.1 million in 2015. The numbers are the tops, by far, in Alabama.
The county’s average hotel occupancy rate also rose, from 61 percent in 2015 to 63 percent in 2016.
Altogether, coastal Alabama accounted for 40 percent of the state’s $13.3 billion in travel-related expenditures last year.
OWA is anticipated to boost tourism spending in the region by 7 percent.
“It’s a tremendous amenity that adds to the vacation experience,” said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon.
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