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Sweet Frog founder still pushing for $185M waterpark-anchored project

Michael Thompson September 26, 2016 4

Waterford Park LLC is under contract to purchase 17 acres off Genito Road near Route 288. (Kieran McQuilkin)

Waterford Park LLC is under contract to purchase 17 acres off Genito Road near Route 288. (Kieran McQuilkin)

Derek Cha and his partner Brett Burkhart are adding more land to a sprawling “retail-tainment” development they’ve proposed in Chesterfield.

Their Waterford Park LLC is under contract to purchase 17 acres off Genito Road near Route 288 from Thalhimer Realty Partners, Cha said last week.  That added parcel will give Cha and Burkhart a total of 105 acres that they hope to develop into a waterpark-anchored commercial and residential development they are calling Waterford Park.

The first phase of the plan calls for construction of a lake of up to 17 acres that would be fitted with an obstacle course and capable of handling waterskiing.

“There aren’t going to be any slides,” said Cha, known locally as the founder of frozen yogurt giant Sweet Frog and Korean restaurant chain Zzaam.

Next would come a white water rafting park that could host adventure races, plus a concert venue, rock climbing walls, zip lines, and high ropes courses.

In addition to the recreation, Cha and Burkhart also envision inclusion of a brewery, hotel, 330 apartments, 400 townhomes, and 500,000 square feet of commercial space.

Depending on the state of the market, Waterford Park is envisioned to be built in phases over seven to 15 years and cost about $185 million, Cha said.

The first phase of the plan calls for construction of a lake of up to 17 acres, fitted with an obstacle course and waterskiing.

The first phase of the plan calls for construction of a lake of up to 17 acres, fitted with an obstacle course and waterskiing.

But the plan first must get through Chesterfield County’s Board of Supervisors.

Cha and Burkhart last applied for rezoning of the land they hope to use for Waterford Park. The application has been deferred three times and is up for consideration again next month.

They initially got pushback from county officials and nearby residents at communities like Brandermill about potential noise and traffic problems.

This time Cha and Burkhart are feeling confident.

“We worked really diligently for the last year and a half to get the zoning,” Cha said. “We proffered to improve certain intersections. The current residents will be better off.”

Cha said in exchange for getting the land rezoned, he and his partner will pay for the construction of additional lanes and traffic signals at the intersections at Charter Colony Parkway and Tredegar Lake Parkway, Charter Colony Parkway and Genito Road, Genito Road and Genito Place.

Waterford Park would take shape on land adjacent to River City Sportsplex, a compound of turf athletic fields that was formerly part of the infamous SportsQuest, a failed idea for a 250-acre mega sports facility.

With the exception of the turf fields, none of SportsQuest’s offerings ever came to fruition and the concept imploded in 2012, leaving a wake of lawsuits, foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Skepticism of such large, sports-anchored all-encompassing projects apparently still lingers around Chesterfield.

“From the very beginning we’ve been battling the ashes of SportsQuest,” said Burkhart. “We’ve had to prove why we’re different.”

From left: Tom Dunn, Brett Burkhart and Derek Cha. (Michael Thompson)

From left: Tom Dunn, Brett Burkhart and Derek Cha. (Michael Thompson)

The road toward Waterford Park began in 2013, when Cha began buying some of the undeveloped land that was left over from SportsQuest. His first piece was the $2 million purchase for a 57-acre tract. Then in July of this year, Cha closed on an adjacent 30 acres.

Cha said at the time of the first acquisition he was just making a bet on Richmond’s continued growth.

“I did want to develop it at a later time,” he said. “It was just that time came quicker than I planned for.”

While Cha was adding to his real estate holdings, Burkhart, a co-founder of a local real estate signage company, was searching for sites for a waterpark in Chesterfield. His search eventually led him to the land Cha owned.

“I tracked down Derek through attorneys and business partners and everyone I could find that might know him,” Burkhart said.

When Burkhart finally got a meeting to pitch his vision for Waterford Park, he made quite an impression on Cha.

“I thought this guy was visionary,” Cha said of Burkhart, adding the fact that he already owned the land was a plus. “I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Today, the two are 50-50 partners and see their multi-phased development as a regional draw. Their plans are modeled after the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, which attracts more than one million people a year, Burkhart said.

“It’s a lifestyle center,” Burkhart said. “They like to say ‘one in five people get wet.’ Four out of five people just come to watch and be part of the lifestyle.”

Watford will be free to enter, and activities will cost $25 per hour or $50 for an all-day pass.

“Most of the water activity will be somewhat seasonal,” Cha said. “The rest of the activity will be all year long.”

As they wait for county approval, Cha and Burkhart haven’t wasted time lining up financing, builders and brokers to help make the idea a reality.

Broker Tom Dunn of JLL has been enlisted to attract commercial tenants to the development. Ryan Homes will build the townhomes, and The Breeden Company will do the apartment building.

Timmons Group and RK&K are doing the engineering work. David Cheon of NCI Construction is the general contractor for the project.

Financing will come in the form of cash and help from Bank of Lancaster and Community Bank.

For Cha and Burkhart, the future of retail is in giving people a reason to shop that goes beyond just sales and good customer service. Shoppers need to be entertained.

“We knew we wanted to be as flexible as we could.” Burkhart said in reference to the broad scope of Waterford’s zoning application. “The market is in a state of transition from traditional, big box-anchored developments. Retail-tainment is what people are really interested in.”

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  1. Bruce Milam September 26, 2016 at 8:07 am - Reply

    I love the can-do attitude. It’s an exciting project. I had to read that sentence about the financing a couple times. I’m glad that they are talking to banks and investors.

  2. Bert Hapablap September 26, 2016 at 8:41 am - Reply

    I will say it’s an ambitious plan. I don’t know if I see it making it through the Chesterfield board successfully in it’s current form though. This kind of plan will be a hard pull on the resources in that area, like roads, schools, ect. I guess we’ll see, I do know the Whitewater Center in Charlotte they cited has had issues here lately with attendance, some of that due to some water amoeba.

  3. ron virgin September 26, 2016 at 9:08 am - Reply

    While this type of sprawl seems unnecessary to some, recall that many suburban dwellers want these type of amenities. If the citizens support the project, by all means build it.

  4. Scott Easterday September 26, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

    The whitewater center near Charlotte is amazing and has a ton of fun stuff to do. I’ll definitely support this if it happens.

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