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Remember Grand Texas? Amusement Park Behind Big Rivers Waterpark Still Has Plans to Open

Houston-area locals might remember Grand Texas, the name of an amusement park that never fully came to fruition but promised rollercoasters, water rides and lively shows in New Caney. 

The year was 2013 and the area had just accepted the fact that another dinosaur-themed park would not be opening after the park’s parent company went bankrupt, leaving a hole in the heart of amusement park enthusiasts who were still getting over Astroworld’s closure. Grand Texas first planned to open in 2015 at the intersection of U.S. 59 and Texas 242. 

After years of delays, the park opened its water park portion of the entertainment center in 2019, known today as Big Rivers Waterpark and Adventures. But little has been said about the bigger, ongoing vision for Grand Texas. 

Grand Texas representatives told the Chronicle the park is still going to happen. The next phase of the park is slated to open in 2025 as a Main Event-style indoor entertainment area. And in the coming years, the amusement park will open, which will have coasters and more, but no firm date for opening could be established, according to park officials.

“This is not something going away, it’s not something we’re saying, ‘We’re building an amusement park’ and not doing it, it’s still the plan. Unfortunately, plans change when you have a pandemic,” said General Manager Lee Hovis.

Looking back

So why did the park have so many delays? Infrastructure, funding and COVID, Hovis said. 

Shortly after the 2013 announcement, owner Monty Galland said it was discovered the 609 acres purchased — where Big Rivers now sits — didn’t have any infrastructure set up for any of the utilities. That meant the early years were spent creating the municipal utility district, or MUD, that is required for water, sewage and drainage. 

“We were very unaware of all that was required to accomplish the amusement park side,” Galland said. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know when we started the project.”

Galland said he and his team decided to start with a waterpark first before adding an amusement park. By 2015, $15 million had been spent on infrastructure. Galland said they were set to secure waterpark financing that year, when a month before closing the deal, the financing was pulled by the bank in the wake of the oil plunge. They ended up selling off part of the land and were able to secure more funding in 2018. It had a soft opening in 2019.

COVID threw another wrench in plans. Big Rivers, which only opens in the summer, saw a lack of customers despite opening in the summer of 2020.

“We didn’t close at all, but (COVID) did almost bankrupt us,” Galland said.

Big Rivers didn’t have its first “normal” year until this summer, after a rainy 2022. It is gearing up to add additional water rides to the park. There are 85 acres for the water park, which is about 80 percent occupied and 135 acres next to it that will be dedicated to the amusement park. It is unclear when the amusement park will be complete at this point.

“I can’t even realistically give you a year because of the fact that I’ve learned so much about what could go wrong,” Galland said. “I need to make sure that we’ve got the cooperation of all the different utility providers, the cooperation of the government agencies, cooperation of the weather and the desire of the public. So we’re going to make sure that all those are in place before we are able to open the amusement park.”

Looking ahead

When Grand Texas was first announced, park organizers said it would have seven areas devoted to Texas history and culture. It has so far paid homage to Texas rivers and areas with the names of the water park rides at Big Rivers. And while Galland said there will still be some Texas history and culture in the park, they will be reevaluating what the Houston community would want at the park.

“We will really have to decide as we get farther into it, what the brand is of Grand Texas,” Hovis said. “There’s different things that we have planned, but it’s not set in stone.”

In the meantime, Grand Texas is in the preliminary stages of the family entertainment center’s design. Whether it will have bowling, laser tag or rock climbing has not yet been determined. They are doing research on market demand.

Kelly Mattlage with the East Montgomery County Improvement District said the park has become the biggest family attraction in the area, leading to other developers wanting to build commercial properties nearby. “We’re very supportive of Monty and all of his efforts,” Mattlage said. 

It’s been a long road for owner Galland, who first got the idea for the park in 2008, but didn’t get the ball moving until 2010 due to the recession. Now, all his kids have worked at the park and it’s been a family business he really enjoys.

“He did an amazing job putting the park together. And now we’re all just ready to go forward and really make this thing a big success,” Hovis said.

Source : HoustonChronicle