Two hours before the gates swing open at BREC’s new Liberty Lagoon water park, eager families with beach towels and backpacks begin lining up outside.
With capacity limited to 600, an early arrival is the only way to guarantee a chance of getting inside the facility at Independence Park on Lobdell Avenue.
So visitors arrive well before the water park opens at 11 a.m. — noon on Sundays — and wait, with varying degrees of patience.
Park system managers say they are pleased by the public’s response to Liberty Lagoon, which opened over Memorial Day weekend, but acknowledge that the daily crush of people does pose challenges.
“On weekends, they start lining up around 9 a.m.,” said Brett Weinberger, aquatics manager for the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission. “Everything’s been overwhelming with the public’s response.”
The numbers tell the story.
Daily revenue from ticket and concession sales through June 11, the most recent figures available, exceeded projections by 49 percent, according to data provided by the park department.
Revenues were projected at $131,890 for the first 17 days of operations but came in at $196,350.
Sheila Savoy, BREC’s finance director, said officials expected a “surge of people” at the beginning, but said that will likely taper off during the 91-day season that Liberty Lagoon is open.
“We’re hoping the overall revenue ends up being at $706,000, as budgeted,” Savoy said.
She said the goal is to generate enough revenue to cover operating expenses and break even.
“This is a learning curve for us on all sides,” Savoy said. “BREC’s never operated a water park like this.”
On weekends, Liberty Lagoon has been drawing 1,200 people or more a day, according to figures provided by the park department.
The capacity is limited to 600 people, but as people leave and spaces open up, others are admitted. Visitors stay inside for two-and-a-half to three hours on average.
Ted Jack, BREC’s assistant superintendent of Planning and Park Resources, said admission was limited to 600 for safety and security reasons and to ensure a better-quality experience for patrons.
“We don’t want it to be so crowded that people are not having a very good time,” Jack said. “If we let too many people inside, the experience really goes down.”
Among the challenges managers say they face with the daily crush of crowds is finding ways to keep people comfortable as they wait in lines in the blazing sun.
“We’ve already made some changes to help improve this,” Weinberger said.
For example, he said, water coolers with paper cups have been placed on tables outside the gates so that people can quench their thirst.
In addition, Weinberger said, BREC began this weekend allowing the first 75-80 people in line into the shade of a front entrance breezeway. He said the breezeway, which is just inside the gates, will serve as a holding area.
Meanwhile, he said, shade tents are being put up outside to provide protective covering for others waiting in line for admission.
Weinberger said off-duty police officers, paid by BREC, and park rangers monitor the lines, providing security and dealing with problems like people cutting in line.
Further adjustments, including possibly opening the park earlier on weekends, might be considered when the park opens next year, Weinberger said.
He said Liberty Lagoon is used for special programs from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday and on Saturday. He said swim lessons, fitness activities and programs for kids enrolled in BREC camps are conducted during those hours.
Pool maintenance and site cleaning is done during the early morning hours on Fridays, Weinberger said. The facility closes at 7 p.m. each day, unless rented for private functions.
Elizabeth Haynes Harrison, director of Marketing and Entertainment for the privately operated Blue Bayou Water and Theme Park, said the opening of Liberty Lagoon has not affected that business because Blue Bayou draws from a different clientele.
“We are considered a regional park and draw from a multistate area,” Harrison said.
She said 87 percent of Blue Bayou’s guests come from outside of East Baton Rouge Parish.