Michael Conaghan may have left the lifeguard stands and starting blocks behind him a long time ago, but he is making more waves in the aquatics industry than ever.
Now senior vice
president at the Marshall Group, a Minneapolis-based real estate
investment banking company, he was one of the first financiers to
validate — and commit dollars to — the indoor waterpark
resort business model. That model has since caught fire, with
Conaghan financing nearly $1 billion in the past eight
include Key Lime Cove, a $140 million project in Gurnie, Ill.; the
Grand Mound, Wash., Great Wolf Lodge property, another $140 million
project; Fort Rapids, a $40 million indoor waterpark hotel in
Columbus, Ohio; and Focus Hospitality’s two Splash Universe
properties located in Dundee, Mich., and Shipshewanna, Ind. As of
press time, the firm also is in the process of providing financing
for another $140 million Great Wolf Lodge located in Concord,
far cry from those early days, when most banks were jittery about
waterpark resorts. “Getting those first investors to jump in
was a challenge early on, but now, the proof is in the
pudding,” Conaghan says.
Of course, he
has had an advantage over his peers. Prior to joining the Marshall
Group, he was the director of finance for Great Wolf Resorts, where
Conaghan was responsible for raising all the equity and debt for
the firm’s first seven indoor waterpark resort properties and
helping to take the company public.
He says his
experience working for a waterpark resort developer gave him an
edge then and now. “I’m able to see both sides —
the borrower perspective and the lender perspective — and
find a fair middle ground,” he says.