News Track: What’s happening with the Wasserbahn?
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News Track: What’s happening with the Wasserbahn?

Oct 20, 2023

Williamsburg water park, closed in 2022, still awaits demolition

Jul. 28, 2023 6:00 am

Driving along Interstate 80 near Williamsburg, you still see the sign advertising the Wasserbahn — a hotel and water park sitting vacant for more than a year.

Where do things stand with the attraction, once slated for demolition?

In 1971, Amana-Nordstrom — now the Amana Society — built the hotel off U Avenue, just south of the interstate. It was a Holiday Inn in its early days, serving as a frequent site for wedding receptions and other parties in Iowa County.

The hotel changed hands a couple of times since 2011.

Tom Smock of Smock Investments bought the site under contract in 2019, but when the pandemic hit and fewer Iowans were traveling, occupancy levels dropped at hotels across the state, including the Ramada that housed the Wasserbahn.

Smock Investments got two rounds of federal Paycheck Protection Program money totaling $340,000. Those forgivable loans were provided to help companies retain staff during COVID-19.

Then, on March 1, 2022, the hotel closed suddenly, leaving some staff without pay and causing housing concerns for staff living in the hotel, KCRG-TV reported. The hotel reverted back to Avari Investments LLC, which had sold the site to Smock.

Avari owner Yule Park, who said he planned to demolish the hotel and build a truck stop, auctioned off all the hotel’s goods, including kitchenware, furniture, art and two four-story fiberglass waterslides the last week of March 2022.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources continues to monitor the site, visiting occasionally to see if there are any changes.

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“I stopped by the Wasserbahn on April 5 on my way to check on the tornado damage in Coralville,” Levi Fisher, with the Iowa DNR’s Compliance, Asbestos Abatement and Demolition Projects department, wrote May 9 to Kurt Levetzow, supervisor of the Region 6 office, which has responsibility for Iowa County.

“Tom and I have been trying to keep eyes on whenever we go out that way. Nothing noticeable had changed since Tom and I stopped by the last time,” Fisher wrote.

The Gazette obtained the emails through and open records request. Several emails on May 9 and 10 followed The Gazette’s request as Levetzow reached out to his colleagues about the hotel.

Ryan Stouder, an Iowa DNR senior environmental specialist, wrote to Park to ask the status of demolition plans.

“I am checking in with you regarding the plans for the old Wasserbahn Hotel,” Stouder wrote. “You have indicated that the buildings will be demolished, but we have not see any paperwork indicating that asbestos inspection has occurred, nor if abatement has occurred yet either.”

Stouder asked Park to call or email, which Park did later on May 9.

“There has been no activity on this location, the goal is to demolish the buildings when all the plans are finalized, but we are far from there. Once we have 100% confirmed plans we will let you know,” Park wrote.

Iowa DNR staff confirmed earlier this month there have been no updates since May. The Gazette visited the site July 21 and found the same tall chain-link fence around the hotel with no signs of change since March 2022. The Amoco station and 225 Artisans Gallery gift shop remain open.

For a building to be considered abandoned under Iowa Code, it must have remained vacant and have been in violation of the housing code for six consecutive months.

If neighbors or county officials believe an abandoned building is dangerous or unsafe, they can file a petition for abatement, which could include removal of the structure.

The Iowa DNR has a Derelict Building Program available to towns of fewer than 5,000 residents to address abandoned and neglected commercial or public structures. The fund helps pay for asbestos inspections, and possibly abatement, required before a building would be torn down, as well as demolition or renovation costs.

The Gazette wrote an email to the Iowa County Board of Supervisors to see if they have any plans to take action about the Wasserbahn site. None of the members wrote back as of midweek.

1971: Amana-Nordstrom opens hotel at exit 225 off Interstate 80.

2004: Wasserbahn Waterpark Resort opens in the hotel. The park includes tube slides, a 160-gallon bucket dump, geysers and a floating log walk.

Sept. 30, 2011: Amana sells at auction to Young Been Kim, assessor’s records show.

July 2012: The Wasserbahn closes for about a week after a water test showed E. coli bacteria in the well that supplies the hotel. Although the dangerous bacteria wasn’t found in the pool, inspectors closed the water park because of ongoing issues with chlorine deficiency.

Sept. 6, 2013: Kim agrees to close the water park under a state consent order after a complaint investigation. To reopen, Kim is required to hire an experienced engineer and a pool management company as well as submit regular water tests.

2014: Avari Investments, owned by Yule Park and Sae Kim, buys the hotel and water park out of foreclosure.

July 17, 2015: State Public Health Department grants permission for the water park to reopen after new owners make improvements.

Dec. 15, 2019: Smock Investments buys hotel and water park under contract with Avari.

Dec. 31, 2019: Owner plans to renovate south side of first floor from hotel rooms into a spa area, according to inspection records.

April 2020: Smock gets $141,500 from federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Feb. 24, 2021: Smock gets $198,500 from Paycheck Protection Program to retain 49 hotel jobs, the Small Business Administration reported.

Dec. 7, 2021: Triggered by a complaint, inspectors find first-floor construction zone showing signs of black mold, not sealed off from guests. Recheck shows problems have been corrected.

Feb. 15, 2022: Iowa County inspector visits the water park after a complaint from a family that said kids got sick after swimming there. Inspector finds some of same conditions, including no lifeguards.

March 1, 2022: Hotel and water park close suddenly, leaving employees who live at the hotel without housing and without their last paycheck, KCRG-TV reported.

Late March 2022: Avari LLC hires Backes Auction to auction everything in the hotel, including the waterslides.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; [email protected]

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