New Garden prepares for its biggest splash ever03/03/2021 11:07AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
On a recent morning at Saint Anthony in the Hills in New Garden Township, John McKenzie and Nick Reynolds tilted their heads up to the Winter sun that reflected in their sunglasses, and imagined the future.
They were standing in the concrete rubble of what will soon become their second Splash Surf Club franchise, one that will transform the long-dormant pool and adjacent recreation area into a concept that has until this point been a foreign one in southern Chester County: A high-end swim club bursting with activities and an island vibe hip enough to be called what McKenzie and Reynolds have been referring to it as.
A Seasonal Staycation.
“Can’t you just hear the steel drums and the live island-style music?” Reynolds asked. “Can’t you see the beer garden hopping with friends? Can you see the kids in the pool and everyone with a smile on their face? Can you just imagine for a moment that the cold you feel on your back is really the air conditioning in the cabanas?”
While it remains a challenge to imagine what McKenzie and Reynolds already see in their mind’s eye through the rust and neglect of the facility’s current condition, the Splash Surf Club in New Garden is on the books for a miraculous renovation that is scheduled to open to members and the general public on Memorial Day weekend this year:
- A completely re-surfaced outdoor pool, with adjacent in-ground hot tub areas for adults, a 30’ x 60’ children’s pool, a poolside lounge and additional areas for outdoor poolside seating, all of which will be accented with Adirondack chairs
- A total of 60 private and furnished poolside cabanas available for seasonal and daily rental, that will also include indoor single and double cabanas in the pavilion area, equipped with wet bars, flat-screen TVs, air conditioning and views that overlook the pool area
- Private conference and business rooms
- Located in the facility’s pavilion, the Wave restaurant – painted in turquoise, creamsickle orange and ocean blue -- will offer members and non-members a seasonal menu reminiscent of a tropical island vacation
- The pavilion will also offer members and non-members access to a beer garden and bar, complete with couches and flat-screen TVs, and a VIP lounge for members
- Live music, special themed nights for children and adults, movie nights and barbecue events throughout the season for members
- Lawn games like Bocce Ball, corn hole, shuffleboard, ping-pong tables and a playground, that will be available for members and non-members
- The facility will also provide private swimming lessons and serve as the home pool for The Splash Surfers, a registered youth swimming team that will be coached by Cindy Millison, the current Kennett High School swim coach
“This is a location for a complex of this kind that you just don’t see every day,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to become a part of a beautiful property, and we’re inheriting the incredible work and attention to detail of its former owners. It’s inheriting the structures and the history of Saint Anthony’s and infusing our own ideas.
“Given all of these intangibles, this will become not just a pool, but a destination, even for people who aren’t members, who can still come here for dinner and get the vibe of being on vacation.”
What is now enabling the wheels of this enterprise to gain traction in the soggy late Winter soil of Saint Anthony in the Hills is the stuff of ingenuity, fueled by the township’s desire to rescue the property from the sure fate of a developer’s wrecking ball. After years of negotiation with original owners St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington, the township’s Board of Supervisors agreed to purchase the property in 2018 for $1.5 million, with a long-term idea to redefine it as the township’s future cultural and social centerpiece for nature and family activity.
Building on previous success
At about the same time the township was putting its signatures on acquiring Saint Anthony in the Hills, McKenzie and Reynolds were preparing to turn an abandoned swim club property in Marple Township into what became their first Splash Surf Club. It was a sensation before it was even completely renovated, as more than 450 families signed onto memberships several weeks before it opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2019.
As McKenzie and Reynolds began to consider the possibility of duplicating their success elsewhere, they were alerted to what was happening at St. Anthony in the Hills from a likely source: a very satisfied member of the Splash Surf Club in Marple Township.
“I saw that the township had posted a video on its website a while ago about eliciting the township’s ideas for how it could potentially develop the property,” said Justin Busam, an officer with the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department. “I knew that there was a pool facility at Saint Anthony’s, and because I love what John and Nick have done with the Splash Surf Club in Marple Township, I told them about the pool. They contacted [former township Manager] Tony Scheivert, and got the ball rolling.”
At their Jan. 19 online meeting, the New Garden board voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with McKenzie and Reynolds. As part of the agreement, Splash, LLC will pay the township a $2,000 fee to operate the facility, assume all liability and repair costs required, oversee that all safety codes are met.
McKenzie and Reynolds were given another responsibility – to sell memberships. As of late February, close to 60 memberships had already been sold, a number they said keeps rising every week. Individual and family memberships are available in a one-time or monthly payment schedule; an individual membership is $370 for the summer or $123 a month; a two-person membership is $500 for the summer or $167 monthly; and for a family of four, a three-month membership is $710 or $236 monthly. Day passes for non-members will also be available.
“The reason we came up with Splash was that in the summer, families have only a few vacation or day-out options they can do with their children,” McKenzie said. “They can head to the Jersey Shore for a week, which for a family of four will be about $4,000. They can take the kids to a big amusement park for a day, which will still cost about $300 at a minimum.
“In contrast, what we wanted to build was an affordable 120-day seasonal staycation, where for a family of four, it will cost about $700 for an entire summer. Translated, that’s about 60 cents a day, per person. We will also give discounts to New Garden Township residents, seniors and veterans, and we will work with every family to create an affordable option for them. We never want any family to feel excluded because of costs.”
The Splash Surf Club will also figure in the local economy, too. In addition to the many contractors its expects to employ in the facility’s construction over the next three months, McKenzie and Reynolds anticipate the hiring of as many as 65 seasonal employees in 2021.
If the COVID-19 protocols made last summer in Marple Township were any indication, the Splash Surf Club in New Garden and those who visit will be fully attended to in 2021.
“We invested over $40,000 in COVID-19 precautions at our Marple club in 2020,” Reynolds said. “We had a thermal image camera at the entrance taking members’ temperatures. We had hand sanitizing stations everywhere, and had close to 30 active zones that allowed no more than 15 people per zone. We placed signage everywhere, and had an electro-static sprayer that we used to spray down every one of our chairs at the end of the night.”
The ‘anchor store’ of a new town center
No matter the size, breadth and dimension of the initial investment, any entrepreneur willing to make an economic roll of the dice benefits from having a partner who believes in the enterprise of their ideas.
“Without their support of New Garden Township, this can’t happen,” McKenzie said. [New Garden Township Manager] Ramsey Reiner and the supervisors have done a great job in helping us move this forward. They could have chosen to keep this facility on the back burner for another year, which would have left the place even more dilapidated. Instead, they chose to create a new town center – a social gathering hub -- in the middle of a 140-acre preserve.
“New Garden has chosen us to become the anchor store of that town center.”
For Busam and his family, who live in nearby Aston, it is the atmosphere that he and his family enjoy most at the Marple Township location, and it’s a feeling that he said will easily transfer to New Garden.
“The individuals and families who will come here can expect to feel like they are at a Jamaican resort, on vacation,” he said. “Everything about it is fun. My family has gone there on many occasions and waited at the club for the gait to open and stayed until the gate closed at the end of the day.”
As McKenzie and Reynolds gave a tour of their new facility, they pointed out hanging wires, side-stepped holes in the concrete floor in the pavilion and acknowledged the work of a contractor, who was using recycled water from the swimming pool to power wash the walls of the pavilion. Reynolds, tucked into a colorful jacket resplendent with the tones of summer, surveyed the craggy property that will, in three months, become a three-month-a-year paradise.
“For most people who walk into this place for the first time, all they see is the demolition, and the trees growing through the concrete,” he said. “Instead, John and I walked through here for the first time and saw it already completed. We saw the cabanas, the kids splashing in the pool, and the people sitting in the restaurant.
“If you have the vision, you already know what you’re capable of.”
Membership registration for summer 2021 is underway and residents of New Garden Township may take advantage of a 10 percent discount. To secure your membership at the Splash Surf Club, visit online at https://splash-club.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].