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Kalahari project tries to defy dipping economy

Kraemer Brothers LLC discovered a down economy can have an upside when the company built a $20 million indoor theme park for Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells.
Top subcontractors — and the top employees with those subcontractors — were available to work on the 110,000-square-foot steel structure, said Bill Kolar, project manager for Kraemer, Plain.
“If there’s a good thing about the economy — and there really isn’t — but in times like these, contractors have good people working for them,” he said. “We were fortunate to be working with the A-team.”
Builders were to wrap up the project Tuesday for a Friday grand opening that was set by Kalahari nearly a year ago to capitalize on the Christmas and New Year’s Eve seasons.
“We weren’t going to be the guys disappointing a thousand kids who couldn’t get on the go-karts,” Kolar said.
The question now is whether a thousand kids will show up. Todd Nelson, president and owner of Kalahari, said he isn’t worried about pushing ahead with an expansion during an economic downturn. While competitors like Great Wolf Resorts are struggling financially — Great Wolf’s stock hit 71 cents a share Monday, down from a high of $10 a share — Nelson said Kalahari anticipates a “very good” year in 2009.
“The economy doesn’t hurt us that bad,” he said. “We’re thrilled to have something new out there.”
Conventional wisdom about the Dells is that a slow economy can help business, Nelson said. Since people don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a week at Disney World, they’re more inclined to drive to a resort and spend a weekend.
So far, the theory is holding up, said Jared Cote, a representative at the Wisconsin Dells Chamber of Commerce. He said weekdays are slow this holiday season, but resorts are filling up on the weekends.
“Even smaller hotels are still getting a lot of business,” Cote said.
The new Kalahari theme park includes a 65-foot-tall Ferris wheel, a carousel, an elevated figure-eight go-kart track and a three-story ropes course. It also includes 24 lanes of bowling, a bar and a play area for young children.
The theme park was designed by Steve Tine, Kalahari’s director of development, and Lake Delton-based Architectural Design Consultants Inc., which designed all of the major indoor water parks in the Dells plus several others around the country.
Kraemer Brothers started working on the competitively bid project in January and began construction in April. Muermann Engineering, Kiel, did the plumbing, fire protection and electrical work, and Fredericksen Engineering Inc., Mequon, did the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning work, he said. McFarlane Manufacturing Co. Inc., Sauk City, provided the steel.
“With most construction jobs, if people do what they say they’ll do, you won’t have a problem,” Kolar said. “It’s when someone drops the ball that you have problems. It’s like the economic downturn, if one person falls through, it affects the next guy and the next guy. You’ve got to keep everyone on track.”

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