Ron Jon lines up surf park financing

FLORIDA TODAY, Jan. 16, 2003 —

ORLANDO — Some wealthy surfers, a shopping center landlord and an ex-sports magazine editor have teamed up to raise $9 million and make Ron Jon Surfpark in Orlando a reality.

The Ron Jon Surfpark, a high-profile wave pool for surfers and body-boarders, will be an anchor attraction at Festival Bay Mall, located on International Drive in Orlando.

“We’ve been pretty well-publicized, so people who appreciate the concept came to us with money,” said Jamie Meiselman, founder and chief executive officer of Surfparks LLC, which is developing the attraction. “We have about a dozen investors who are high-net-worth surfers, and our landlord, Belz Enterprises, was instrumental in helping us make this deal happen.”

The surf park would derive millions of dollars worth of marketing from the licensing deal that entitles Surfparks to use the Ron Jon Surf Shop name.

Cocoa Beach-based Ron Jon would operate the retail shop and restaurant on site, said Meiselman, who previously edited a group of surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding magazines.

“We’re pleased to see the new Ron Jon Surfpark project getting under way,” said Ron Jon Surf Shop President Ed Moriarty. “It’s a natural extension of the Ron Jon brand.”

Memphis, Tenn.-based Belz Enterprises — a privately held real estate company that also owns three Peabody hotels — wants the Ron Jon Surfpark to be another successful anchor tenant.

“We feel that the Ron Jon Surfpark is a good fit for the Festival Bay Mall,” said Andy Groveman, senior vice president of Belz Enterprises. “This is a one-of-a-kind tenant, and Ron Jon will be a huge magnet and draw for water enthusiasts and surfers.”

Other major tenants in the mall include Vans Skatepark; a 20-screen Cinemark theater; Putting Edge, which offers glow-in-the-dark miniature golf; a 143,000-square foot Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store; and a 14,000-square foot store Ron Jon Surf Shop.

Debbie Dooley, owner of Natural Art Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, said there are great opportunities for a surf park.

“It’s nice to surf at the wave pool when there no waves at the beach,” Dooley said. “The thing is you can surf at night. Surfers are thinking when they get off work they can surf.”

Eliana Haddad of Titusville said she thinks the surf park is a great idea.

“We always used to go to Orlando, to Wet ‘n’ Wild, when the kids were young,” she said. “But, now, they’re teenagers, and they like the beach. What I like about the wave pool is it’s more controlled than the ocean, it’s less dangerous and not as uncertain.”

Construction of the 100,000-square-foot surf park is expected to begin this summer, and the park is scheduled to open in mid-2006. Plans for the park were first announced in February 2004.

Meiselman said it takes at least $9 million to $10 million to open a surf park. In this case, $6 million comes from private equity investors and $3 million through a loan with First Tennessee Bank, a division of Memphis-based First Horizon National Corp.

Another investor in the project is Earthlink founder Sky Dayton, Meiselman said.

Meiselman said the Orlando surf park could be the beginning of a nationwide rollout.

“We’ve been laying the groundwork for other locations,” he said. “We’re eyeing other areas where a surf park would do well, and those are Southern California and South Florida.”

Three surf pools for Surfpark
The Ron Jon Surfpark at Festival Bay Mall in Orlando will include three surf pools to accommodate various levels of wave-riding enthusiasts.

Pro Surf Pool: The Pro Surf Pool uses patented technology to create perfect, saltwater waves up to 8 feet high. As large as a football field, the Pro Surf Pool can generate up to six waves a minute, with ride lengths from 60 to 100 yards. A computer-adjustable Versareef pool floor allows a variety of left- and right-breaking wave shapes and includes pre-programmed bottom contours that mimic some of the best natural surf breaks in the world. The Pro Surf Pool is designed for use by experienced surfers and bodyboarders who are confident in overhead surf.

Training Pool: Aspiring surfers and bodyboarders can use a Training Pool with slow-rolling 3- to 5-foot waves for up to 35 yards. The Training Pool also features the Versareef floor to deliver a diverse menu of wave shapes covering first-time beginners right up to intermediates preparing to step up to the Pro Surf Pool.

Boogie Pool: The Boogie Pool will pump out peeling 3-foot waves, offering an easy introduction to wave riders.