The Condos in the Dells

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

The 224 new condominiums are not the main attractions at Glacier Canyon Lodge, the $150 million expansion of the Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. However, the condos are the resort’s main money-maker and reflect a growing trend in the Dells. "The kids are easy to please," said Tom Lucke, owner of the Wilderness. "(But) I am always trying to entertain the adults. I want to make sure they are taken care of."

Glacier Canyon Lodge will offer a 3.2-acre outdoor waterpark with a 1,600-foot-long adventure river system called Lost World River Adventure.

The expansion also includes a new 18-hole golf course and enclosing the existing 68,000-square-foot Great Wave outdoor wavepool and Dueling Mammoths family racing tube rides in a dome made with Foil Tec. The Foil Tec cover will allow sunlight in so that plants can grow and guests can tan year-round.

The enclosed area will be renamed the Wild KingDome and open this month.

The new golf course will be located east of the current Wilderness Woods Golf Course on 200 acres in what used to be Sullivan Quarry. The golf course will replace the existing Wilderness Woods and was designed by Hurdzan/Fry, the Columbus, Ohio-based golf design firm that also designed Erin Hills Golf Course, which will open later this year near Holy Hill in the Washington County Town of Erin.

Even with 224 condominium units, there is a high demand and a limited supply, said Joe Eck, director of sales and marketing for Wilderness. The access to the resort and the rising selling price of condominium units in Wisconsin Dells is causing a growing trend of ownership for both the investor and the avid vacationer, Eck said.

Wisconsin Dells has been very popular for condominium sales and rentals in the past two or three years, said Steve Shattuck, director for the Wisconsin Dells Visitors & Convention Bureau.

"The Kalahari Resort built the Kalahari Kondos about two years ago, and they were sold out before they even broke ground," Shattuck said. "Great Wolf Lodge recently finished their condominiums, and they are sold out as well."

Revenue from the condo sales provides money that can be spent to add more amenities to the resort, Lucke said.

"Amenities are very expensive to build. A waterpark is $400 per square foot, including the waterpark and the building," he said. "It is expensive to build and expensive to run, so we are always trying to make it easier from a banking standpoint."

One way Wilderness is making it easier is by building, selling and renting the luxury condominiums, villas and cabins that it offers instead of building a large hotel expansion, Lucke said.

Two- and three-bedroom condominiums at the Wilderness are available for $349,000 to $400,000, Eck said.

"Whenever we think about these things we try to pencil it out in our head and try to figure out if it works for the buyer," Lucke said. "The attractive thing is that the buyers are purchasing real estate that they can have fun with for their families, plus we offer a fair rental agreement, and it takes in a lot of money."

Wilderness sold 90 percent of the first 112 condominiums that it is building as part of Glacier Canyon Lodge, Lucke said. The first 112 units will open in July, and the second 112-unit complex is about to break ground, he said.

Forty-six of the new condominium units have been sold to residents in the greater Milwaukee area, said Heidi Fendos, spokeswoman for the Wilderness and owner of Wauwatosa-based Fendos PR Consulting Inc.

Part of the phenomenon is due to a nationwide trend of people renting a condominium unit instead of staying in a hotel. Condo owners recoup their investments by renting out the units.

"One size does not fit all when it comes to lodging options," Shattuck said. "In many cases, the family vacation expectations have evolved, and the resorts have done an excellent job in doing the same to meet those needs."

The property values of condos in the Dells have increased dramatically.

Tom Dexter, general manager of International Autos Inc. in West Allis, owns one villa and two condominium units, and he has two additional condominium units on hold to purchase at Glacier Canyon Lodge.

Dexter participates in the rental program with Wilderness for all of his properties.

In 1999, his business partners introduced Dexter to the first project that Wilderness built. Dexter and his partners paid about $200,000 for the villa in 1999 because they thought it would be a decent investment. Since then, the property has appreciated immensely, he said.

Dexter did not disclose what his properties are worth. The villas range in size between a 1,600-square-foot condominium and a 3,000 square-foot cabin. Wilderness has built cabins that sold for $800,000, Eck said.

"If you think of a regional destination for Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Iowa, it is the Dells," Dexter said. "In the past 10 years, the Dells started to reinvent themselves into a year-round activity center, and places like the Wilderness lend themselves to that."

Dexter used to own apartment buildings in the Milwaukee area, but has transferred his assets to the Dells.

"From a management standpoint, it is less intensive, and you don’t have to deal with the tenant on a day-to-day basis," Dexter said. "The Wilderness handles all of the day-to-day issues, and it is a lot easier for me."

The Glacier Canyon Lodge condominium complex and the rest of the $150 million expansion will most likely be the largest expansion the resort will ever do, Eck said. Through upgrades and continued popularity, condominium owners will see their investment properties pay for themselves, Eck said.

"We call it owning a piece of the Wilderness and being able to use the waterpark," Lucke said. "Then when they are gone, we watch it, take care of it, manage it and send them checks every month."

Top of the Line

Wisconsin Dells waterparks are bringing it up a notch in 2006 with the additions of spa villas, a shopping mall and new and innovative water rides, Steve Shattuck, marketing director for the Wisconsin Dells Visitors & Convention Bureau said. Here are just a few projects that will excite the senses:

  • Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort in March will open the Wild KingDome, which will include putting a dome over its outdoor Great Wave Pool and Dueling Mammoths family racing tube rides. The dome is made with Foil Tec, a material that lets sunlight through so that plants can grow and guests can get a tan year-round. Glacier Canyon Lodge, a 224-unit condominium complex with its own banquet center and three-acre waterpark is currently under construction. Half of the units will open in July.
  • Chula Vista Resort will open an expanded convention and meeting place in May that can cater to groups of up to 2,000. In June, the resort will open the Olde Kilbourn Café. In July, 122 condominium units will be available to the public with views of the Wisconsin River. July will also mark the opening of a new 80,000 square-foot indoor waterpark with a torrent river and water slides that start indoors and extend outdoors.
  • Great Wolf Lodge will open a new 38,000 square-foot indoor waterpark called Bear Tracks Landing that will offer water racing, private cabanas and an area designed for toddlers.
  • Noah’s Ark will open Time Warp, with two to four riders at a time plummeting 70 feet at 30 mph before dropping into the world’s largest family bowl.
  • Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park will open the Parthenon, a 45,000 square-foot indoor theme park with a roller coaster and bumper karts.
  • Tanger Outlet Center will open next to the Great Wolf Lodge in the fall with 65 brand name stores including Banana Republic, Gap, Eddie Bauer, Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger and OshKosh B’Gosh.
  • Sundara Inn & Spa will open its new lifestyle villas this year that will be the first spa residential community in the Midwest. Units include a private spa treatment room for two and an open-air spa garden with an outdoor shower and a hot soak bath.

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