A veteran of the waterpark industry, Jeff Henry is a recognized leader in the design and operation of waterparks, aquatic rides and attractions. Beginning in the late 1970s, Jeff helped design and build Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, New Braunfels, Texas. Over a quarter century of continual development, Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort has become America’s top-rated and most successful seasonal waterpark.
Through the years, Jeff has also served as a design and management consultant for leading waterparks around the world. He has authored numerous articles on waterpark design and is a sought-after speaker. Jeff has been honored repeatedly by industry associations for leadership and innovation.
Jeff spearheaded the development and implementation of the multi-award winning Transportainment® River System. He designed and built the world’s first Transportainment waterpark, Schlitterbahn Beach on South Padre Island in 2001. Jeff continued to work on the next phase of development at the company’s first year-round park, Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark which opened in 2006. It is the nation’s first convertible waterpark with a unique roof-and-wall system that can be opened and closed for year-round operation. In 2005 Jeff began work on the next location for Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, KS. Schlitterbahn Vacation Village opened its outdoor waterpark in 2009 and have continued expanding its facility with thrilling attractions. In 2010, Jeff built a new attraction for the flagship waterpark in New Braunfels named The Falls. The Falls is a Transportainment River system which included an in-water conveyor system and a 3,600 stretch of exciting rapids and falls. Recently, he developed the Schlitterbahn Beach Resort, a 220 room beach front hotel and convertible water resort. This water resort was completed in the summer 2012 on South Padre Island, TX.
Jeff continues to design and develop waterparks and resorts which integrate Schlitterbahn’s patented and innovative aquatic attractions and designs, as well as the operational and safety protocols developed at Schlitterbahn Waterparks. Schlittterbahn Development Group and Henry & Sons Construction Company were instrumental in the design of Kerzner International’s Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas – phase III waterpark expansion and the Kerzner International waterpark project called, The Palm, located in Dubai. Both projects gained rave reviews for the Transportainment River and the award-winning Master Blaster uphill water coasters. Schlitterbahn’s vision for successful waterpark projects make the Schlitterbahn Development Group a sought-after company for many high profile projects.
Here’s an excerpt of Texas Beach Homes’ interview with Jeff Henry:
JEFF: 1999 was the first time I met with Paul Schexnailder – who’s the developer who owns the Packery Channel Marine and site and all the land next door, and owns 2,000, 3,000 acres of land here on North Padre Island.
I’ve known Paul since they acquired the land and he came to us and wanted to discuss the opportunity of building a water park here. We told him at that time that we had no intention of building a water park outside of New Braunfels, and that if we were going to build one outside of New Braunfels, it would not be in Corpus Christi.
Q: What did you see here that made it not ideal for Schlitterbahn?
JEFF: Well, at the time we were a pretty small company. We hadn’t built any parks outside of New Braunfels, so we were still building our first park. And we just weren’t ready to expand, for one thing. And then second and ciliary to that, Corpus Christi was not viewed by us as being a large enough market to sustain a water park.
Q: He approached you in 99, when did it start to look more feasible?
JEFF: In 1999, or in subsequent years, because Paul Schexnailder and I got to be friends and I visited with him and hung out with him at least two or three times a year. He lives in Austin and he would drive here to the island. And when he drove here to the island, he would invariably stop at my office, which is on I-35 in New Braunfels, Texas and he’d come in and just sit down and have a cup of coffee and a chat. So, at the time we did a master plan for him, laid out a… I said there was something that would work and I would gladly show him what that was. [CLEARS THROAT] He asked what it was and it was a resort development, not a water park.
Q: I wasn’t aware you were in that business.
JEFF: We started out in the resort development in 1966, my father bought Campland in New Braunfels, Texas, which turns into Schlitterbahn Resort. So, the business has been operating for almost 50 years and it started out with lodging and accommodations, not with waterslides.
Q: Was that in ’99?
JEFF: I don’t know what year that was, it was in the 2000’s. I highly recommend you interview Paul and you’ll find Paul to be much more articulate than I am, much smarter than I am, and he really knows the market. He knows what works here, why it works, he knows all the numbers. He’s invested the better part of his adult lifetime in developing this part of the island. So, he’s very much invested in this community.
Q: When did it look like things were changing here enough for you to consider a water park?
JEFF: No, I cannot remember the date or the time when I thought this would actually work. I’m not sure it’ll work yet, to be honest with you. I’m never sure, I go into these things with a gut feeling in my gut. Well, we were scheduled to build a park in Cedar Park, but we were unable to get to the point where we were comfortable with our financial partners and our business partners. And so we just decided not to build it. And the this opportunity reared its head. It was Mike Edwards who’s a local community leader and I think Mike Edwards could be credited with getting Schlitterbahn to come here. Mike showed up in New Braunfels with the financial backing to assist us in doing the park with a group of partners that were substantial and good community stewards and they convinced us that the community would accept us and would accept us with open arms and that we would be liked and loved and treated well.
And we first and foremost will not go anywhere where we don’t feel like we’re gonna be treated well. If we sense for a moment that we’re gonna have political problems in a community then we just won’t go, we’ll just go somewhere else. We have lots… we’re only gonna be able, in mine and my brother’s tenure of the company, and we share the CEO-ship at the company. We’ve been basically partners since we were born and Gary and I’ve never really, he’s had one other job for a few years when he worked for Arthur Andersen as… getting his CPA certificate. But other than that, we’ve never been apart. So, Gary runs one part of the company, I run the other. It’s unfair to say that I get this projects done. It’s not me that gets it done, it’s my team that gets it done. And my team includes my mother, father, brother, sister, and the rest of our employees who are all great. And without them, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I get the lucky job of running around creating new stuff and getting to do whatever I want, basically, build whatever I want basically because I am really right on the leading edge of the industry as a whole.
I mean, I tend to think a little bit ahead of the curve, not much, but a little bit, at least when it comes to building water parks and resorts. I wouldn’t say that it’s that way when it comes to women, wine, or song. But they’ve entrusted me with the planning and the development, find the location, decide where we’re gonna go, decide how we’re gonna do it. My group does put together all the financials, all the numbers. I mean, we do it all. I mean, from the start to the end, I mean we begin the prospects of a project early on with site selection. And this site was under selection for 15 years.