Florida’s Gulf Coast is not known as a surfer’s paradise due to its small swells, but a recent study has confirmed one local entrepreneur’s belief that a resort built around the sport would thrive in Tampa Bay.
Tony Miller, a former advertising executive in Tampa, first announced his plans to build Peak Surf Park somewhere in the region in January. The proposed 30-acre action-adventure park is as innovative as it is expansive – it centers around catching waves created by groundbreaking technology, and new renderings highlight an expansive resort-like atmosphere.
According to an independent feasibility and economic impact study conducted by Hotel & Leisure Advisors (HLA), Peak Surf Park – which could open in Tampa Bay as soon as Jan. 1, 2025 – would be a welcome addition in the region. Miller told the Catalyst he was “thrilled” the hospitality consultant’s findings.
“What it did was confirmed what I thought might be the case,” said Miller. “That this project would be very financially viable, and that it would create tremendous impact for the surrounding community.”
Miller said HLA has provided its services for over 30 years to established clients like Crystal Lagoons Corp. and Great Wolf Resorts Inc., and he noted the report was hundreds of pages long and included “a ton of data.”
An HLA survey confirmed the enthusiasm for a surf park throughout Tampa Bay. Approximately 90% of respondents expressed their interest level as “high” or “very high,” and nearly 20% used terms like “excited” or “can’t wait” to describe how they felt. The proposed full-service restaurant, rooftop bar, surf machine and lessons were among the amenities that garnered the most attention.
The economic impact study suggested the park could generate over $50 million in revenue in its first year and attract more than 800,000 annual visitors by its second year in operation. Further out, HLA’s 10-year projections found that Peak Surf Park could create an annual business output of over $1.3 billion and 700 jobs per year.
The study showed the park’s construction would also make waves in the local economy, providing a total output of $30 million.
Miller stressed that the company used locations in Pasco County and St. Petersburg strictly as proxy sites for the studies. “We were trying to understand what the viability would be for the park in a couple of different general areas in the Tampa Bay market,” he explained.
Miller said that every site is different and presents unique challenges for such an endeavor. He said he reached out to around 65 property owners throughout the region, calling the conversations “pretty complex.”
While Miller repeatedly stressed that he was not targeting one specific location, he did acknowledge the “huge boom” of growth happening in Pasco County. As the region continues to grow, he said large, master-planned communities are popping up north of city centers, or in the city of Brandon’s case, to the east.
“And that’s one of the things I was trying to ascertain – is there a clearly better area than others?” explained Miller. “And while there were some differences, it was somewhat negligible.
“The analysis just showed that in any of the broader areas that we’re looking at, the park would do very well and have a great economic impact for that particular area.”
A patented wave mechanism created by Surf Lakes, an Australia-based leader in surf pool technology, will sit in the middle of an expansive lagoon. In a previous conversation, Miller used a simplistic analogy of throwing a rock in a pond to describe how the apparatus provides consistent, ocean-quality waves.
Just as the rock creates ripples in all directions, Peak’s waves will spread over a full 360 degrees. Operators can control the size of the waves through the machine, with intermediate swells reaching about waist-high and the steepness increasing for advanced surfers and competitions.
In addition, the park calls for a half-mile of white sand beachfront, concert and event venues, bars and restaurants, retailers and educational facilities.
“I look at this project as an opportunity to create a massive amount of value for the community,” said Miller.
Miller remains steadfast in his commitment to offering development opportunities and programming for underserved populations. He also intends for the park to operate as a model of sustainability and envisions teaching visitors about and utilizing environmental practices that support Tampa Bay’s waterways and ecosystems.
“We will invest heavily into infrastructure, which is quite expensive, to make the park very sustainable,” said Miller. “And it includes the programming that I mentioned so that we’re serving our local communities.”
Miller said that one of the most important things Peak will provide to the area is accessibility.
He noted that surfing is a very inaccessible sport for people, presenting a dangerous environment that can include sharks, rip currents and the potential for drowning. It is also nearly impossible to predict when waves suitable for riding will approach the shore.
He also explained how the surfing culture attracts people from Florida to Nebraska – regardless of whether they have ever ridden a gnarly wave.
“I think that whole idea of creating that access for people will really be a game-changer,” Miller added. “For a lot of people that never would have envisioned themselves standing up on a surfboard.”