The Big Splash Water Park, the first water entertainment complex in Billings, will be rubble soon and someday a Kelly Inn will take its place.
Billings businessman Jon Dehler, who has been trying to unload Big Splash for about six years, has sold it to Kelly Inns Ltd., of Sioux Falls, S.D.
"We will likely build a hotel in the future, but we have no schedule yet," said Kelly Inns president Brenda Schmidt. "We like the Billings market. We think it's a good market to have another hotel."
Big Splash was built in 1992, but soon hit deep water.
"We bought it in '94 or '95 out of a foreclosure," Dehler said.
Dehler owns several casinos, Fleetwood Gaming and sells LED lights as a wholesaler and retailer. He also is paying $1 million on the installment plan to the city of Billings for the right to name Dehler Park after his late father and avid baseball fan Bill Dehler.
Billings will have another outdoor water park soon when The Oasis, a $4.5 million aquatic center, opens June 3 on Aronson Avenue in the Heights.
Making money off an outdoor water park in Montana is possible, Dehler said. At least, profits were healthy enough in the early 2000s for him to pay off his loans.
But when The Reef off Zoo Drive opened in 2008, Big Splash's sales fell.
"Billings should only have one water park. Then The Reef went in and that was indoors, so we were splitting dollars," Dehler said.
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June was never a great month, unless the last week was really warm, he said.
"So, you've got to bank on 31 beautiful days in July and then it was awesome up to the fair," Dehler said.
Even though the water park stayed open on Labor Day, the late season wasn't too profitable either.
"Once school starts, forget about a water park. I don't care if it was in Phoenix. Close the doors," Dehler said.
At one point, he had the property listed for $1.6 million and two years ago, Big Splash was listed for sale on eBay. The recent sales price to Kelly Inns was not disclosed.
"They stole it. I don't care. It was a dead asset and I'm getting off dead assets," Dehler said.
Realtor Bob Pulley was the seller's agent and Darrell Kreitzberg listed the property.
Ralph Dupea Contracting handled the $30,000 demolition, according to a city building permit. Someone bought a few of the slides, but most of the equipment was salvaged.
Kelly Inns Ltd. runs two Kelly Inns in Billings -- the original Kelly Inn Billings at 5425 Midland Road, which opened in 1995, and the Best Western Kelly Inn and Suites-Billings at 4915 Southgate Drive, which opened six years ago.