After two years and dozens of investor meetings, a local entrepreneur is close to starting his dream of bringing an endless summer to Hanover County.
Walter Bennett, who wants to put a year-round surfing facility called Point Break Surf Park in Hanover, said he is finalizing a contract to purchase 12 acres next to Bass Pro Shops and plans to begin construction on the first $2.5-million phase as soon as he gets approval from the county.
But the first phase of the park, a 240-foot-long pool that will create seven-foot waves, is massively scaled back from the theme park Bennett initially had in mind.
“I think the biggest mistake I made right off the bat was I wanted to build the whole park at one time,” Bennett said. “I had this elaborate $26 million plan, but we were in a bad economy with an unproven idea and unproven technology.”
Bennett, 43, originally envisioned two enormous pools, a restaurant, a conference center, a boardwalk with kiosks, white sand beaches and an enclosure to keep it open year-round.
“I realized quickly that we were going to have to do it in phases,” he said. “You know, I thought we would just go to the bank and they’d want to do it. That’s not how it worked out.”
Instead Bennett, a Rehoboth Beach, Del., native who began surfing at age 6, looked to the world of private equity and private investors to keep his dream alive. He worked up the business plan with a Canadian company called Select Contracts, a firm that works on leisure and entertainment projects such as Point Break, and the former pharmaceutical sales rep and his team hit the capital-raising circuit.
It wasn’t always easy.
“Some days you get up and you say ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” he said. “You have to reach so deep inside of yourself to get out there and give it your all, because it’s more likely the door is going to get slammed in your face than remain open. That’s just the reality.”
He eventually targeted resort and casino developers as his best bet for investment. Bennett said he’s found his investor in a developer who is an avid surfer but wants to remain in the background.
If he closes on the land, which sits off Lakeridge Parkway, Bennett said the first phase of construction would include the smaller of the two planned surf pools (the other is planned to be 540 feet long and put out 12-foot waves) and a surface parking lot. A domed structure will cover the facility.
“These things add up quickly,” he said. “Just paving the parking lot is going to cost $350,000 to $400,000. And the enclosure to keep it open in the winter will be another couple hundred thousand or so. It’s not cheap.”
The surf pool is going to charge $50 per hour for 10 waves. He’s acquired the licensing rights to a wave-making machine through a company called Point Break Wave Co.
“We’ve done a fair amount of research on this, and the average surfer spends about $75 each time they go, between food and gas, driving around trying to find waves,” he said. “So we think $50 per hour with the ability to surf all year round is fair, and you’ll get 10 perfect waves.”
There will also be seasonal passes at $175 or annual passes for $700. The facility will offer surfboard rentals.
Bennett expects the land acquisition to be finalized in the coming weeks. Depending on the permitting process, he hopes to open Point Break in the fall.
Edwin Gaskin, head of economic development for Hanover County, said that he is excited about the prospect of Point Break but that he hasn’t been working with Bennett.
“We love the concept,” Gaskin said. “I think it adds another attraction to a growing commerce destination, so we welcome them.”
The surf park, assuming it comes to fruition, would be the latest in several large deals at the Lewistown Road exit off Interstate 95 in Hanover.
And in February, developer Rob Chesson purchased the Bass Pro Shops property for $9.8 million.