NRH20, a city-owned waterpark in North Richland Hills, TX
Gemini Light, Sound & Video NRH20, a city-owned waterpark in North Richland Hills, TX

By year’s end, there will be more than 1,000 waterparks in North America.

Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a Cleveland-based consulting firm tracked nearly $500 million in new investment last year for a total of 996 waterparks.

That is up from 2014’s count of 858.

In the outdoor market, nearly all the growth is being driven by the public sector. Of the 17 outdoor facilities that opened in the U.S. and Puerto Rico last year, only one was privately owned – Splash Kingdom in Nacogdoches, Texas.

This is a trend that has continued since the recession as private investors held onto their money while cities splurged on public amenities, said the firm’s president, David Sangree.

“Before the recession it was more equal because municipalities didn’t necessarily see the advantage of these as much as private companies did,” he said.

The advantage, of course, is that cities can charge more for admission into a waterpark than into a simple lap pool. Plus, waterparks attract more guests. They’re also priced competitively to their privately-owned counterparts.

Municipal parks might not be able to compete in the thrill department, however. Often, city-owned facilities tend to be smaller with fewer slides. In some cases, they’re just glorified splash pads. (H&L defines any property with three or more slides as a waterpark. Some water-play areas include slides.)

At some point you're going to have too many.

More government-backed properties will open in 2016. However, the private sector appears to be catching up. Of the 14 waterparks expected to open this year, half are private properties. This biggest of these is Typhoon Texas in Katy. The 20-acre park, set to open in May, will have 27 slides, a lazy river and a wave pool. Two of the industry’s biggest players are expected to crack new markets, as well. Wisconsin Dells-based Kalahari Resorts, which opened a 106,000 square foot resort in Pennsylvania last year, is eyeing a couple more projects, Sangree said. And Great Wolf Lodge, the indoor chain of waterparks, is expected to add to its portfolio.

With the number of properties set to surpass 1,000, is the industry in danger of oversaturation? Certainly, some markets are getting soaked. Texas, for example, is experiencing a deluge of developments, Sangree said.

“At some point you’re going to have too many,” he said.

The Midwest and south are home to the majority of waterparks, with 396 and 323 respectively.

H&L, which has been conducting its annual state of the industry report for more than 10 years, does not publish the number of waterparks that have closed. Those are few and far between, Sangree said.