David Sangree is a numbers guy. And the numbers are impressive.
His firm, Hotel & Leisure Advisors in Cleveland, has completed more than 600 market feasibility studies for developers looking to establish a hotel, resort or waterpark. As a result, Sangree has worked with some of the biggest brands in the business.
His role, to put it succinctly, is to come up with financial projections of a proposed property and help a developer imagine what it can do.
He got his first big break as the go-to prognosticator for a resort with an ambitious goal. The company was one of the very first resorts with an indoor waterpark, helping transform the Wisconsin Dells into the Waterpark Capital of the World. The owners wanted to explore a second location in a territory largely untested for the waterpark-resort concept. So they tapped Sangree to crunch the numbers.
“Our results turned out be very accurate,” says Sangree, who graduated Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Due to his assessment, the second Great Wolf Lodge opened in Sandusky, Ohio, spurring a 10-year phase of rapid development. Soon, Great Wolf Lodges sprang up in the Poconos and Washington, among other locations. Sangree performed all the feasibility studies during that period, analyzing potential occupancy rates, financial performance and other key indicators of a successful project.
He then consulted on projects for Kalahari Resorts, Six Flags, Cedar Point, Splash Lagoon, the Wilderness Resort and many more companies that have gone on to great success.
Sangree then expanded his repertoire, providing consulting services for outdoor waterparks.
Key to his success, he says, is that he is both an appraiser and a consultant. As an appraiser, he gets to review how existing properties are performing. This has enabled him to develop a financial performance database which he can use, in his capacity as a consultant, to estimate the success of proposed properties.
“You can only do good projections if you have good data to base it on,” Sangree says.
All of this experience has given him a 30,000-foot view of the industry, making him a popular presenter at the World Waterpark Association’s annual trade show. For this and other contributions, the WWA honored Sangree with the Executive Board Award in 2016.
“Just getting the chance to work with so many of the great operators that exist in the indoor and outdoor waterpark industry has been exciting,” he says. “It’s been quite an interesting ride observing this growth industry.”