FOLEY, AL (WLOX) - It's expected to draw millions of additional tourists to South Alabama. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians will invest half a billion dollars in a tourist attraction and entertainment destination called OWA. And the first phase, which includes a large amusement park, opens next week.
Construction on the amusement park at OWA began last November. Six contractors and more than 1,000 construction workers have this portion of the project ready to open ten days from now.
"All in all, this is about a $240 million project for phase one. And we're having about a five-year build out schedule on this. So, when it's complete in the five-year period, it'll be about $500 million being invested in this project," said OWA Marketing Director Kristin Hellmich.
Roller coaster fans eagerly await the park's opening.
"This is actually our signature coaster. This is the Rolling Thunder. It is over 600 feet long in track length and it is one of the only steel roller coasters in the state of Alabama," said Hellmich, "So, the Rolling Thunder is actually a thrill ride and it's one of 21 total rides that we have here in the park at OWA."
The Downtown District is set to open in September, featuring an array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
"And a few of those exciting retailers that will be opening: We have a Wahlburger's which is the second largest in the U.S. We have a Hershey's ice cream shop and a really great sports bar."
If you're wondering where the name OWA comes from, look no farther than the 14-acre lake that's at the centerpiece of this amusement park property.
"The name OWA actually means "big water" in the native language of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which is developing the project," said Hellmich.
Alabama's director of tourism predicts OWA will be a real "game changer" for the tourism industry.
"There's over 6.2 million visitors that come to the Alabama Gulf Coast every year. And based on our numbers and our studies, this project will generate an additional three million visitors to this area over the next several years, so we're really looking forward to help enhance the local tourism base and the economy as well," said Hellmich.
The OWA project is located just nine miles north of the Alabama beaches. It is also adjacent to a new sports complex in Foley, which is expected to attract hundreds of families for ball games and regional tournaments.