Wolf Opens In Traverse City

March 31, 2003
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TRAVERSE CITY — This tourist town is the third of seven locations around the nation in which a Madison, Wisc., firm has opened or will open rustic-looking resorts that it says offer year-round appeal.

The Traverse City development is called the Great Wolf Lodge.

The project's developers — Great Lakes Companies — say the lodge will level out the peaks and valleys of tourism by attracting people regardless of season.

Its attraction, the firm says, is big-scale indoor water entertainment blended with family lodging.

Thus, whereas Traverse City tends to be primarily a summer tourist town thanks to its lakefront, golf courses and mild weather, Great Lakes' approach is that nearly 300 suite-like rooms and a 38,000-square-foot indoor water park and lots of kids' attractions make the development a tourist magnet all year.

That was the formula for the corporation's first Great Wolf, which opened in 1997 outside the Wisconsin Dells.

The Dells has been a hyper-popular summer tourist attraction for generations, though in winter the area's tourism-based economy tends to ice up.

But Great Wolf's developers were so happy with the response to the first Great Wolf that they've been willing to gamble about $200 million to replicate differing versions of the idea in six other locations.

Great Bear opened almost exactly two years ago in Sandusky, Ohio.

Traverse City's $32 million Great Wolf Lodge officially opened in mid-March. The development — 360,000 square feet on nearly 50 acres — lies just south of the Traverse City limits on U.S. 31.

Great Lakes says its fourth project is under construction in Kansas City, Kan., an area of torrid summers, frigid winters, spring tornados and virtually no tourism.

The firm also reports plans to break ground early in 2004 near Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, and in Poconos, Pa., and near Williamsburg, Va.

The Traverse City lodge's design is a mix of Pacific Northwest totems with log cabin exteriors and interiors.

The firm's senior vice president of sales, Eric Lund, says the design is Great Lakes' attempt to seize upon most people's romanticized notion of the log cabin experience.

"We've captured that idea on a grand scale in Great Wolf Lodge," he said. The "grand scale," he said, includes a three-story grand lobby

He said the lodge relies on rustic décor, with heavy use of wood trim, Native American accents and nature dioramas.

The lodges have meeting and banquet facilities and seven versions of guest rooms that Great Lakes calls suites.

The company calls them suites because most have partitioned sleeping quarters. Others are true suites, having wholly separate sleeping rooms and some with second story lofts.

Depending upon the configuration, some of the rooms come with bunk beds.

The water park features a variety of tube, body and toboggan-style slides and what it dubs a "leisure river" for more sedate recreation, as well as a miscellany of pools and spas.

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