Amusement park opening in Foley marks start of massive resort complex

Julio Diaz, jdiaz@pnj.comPublished 1:34 p.m. CT July 21, 2017 | Updated 4:30 p.m. CT July 21, 2017

(Photo: Phil Bailey/

Hundreds flocked to Foley, Alabama, Thursday evening for a media event celebrating the opening of The Park at OWA, a new amusement park that marks one of the opening stages of a more than 500-acre destination resort minutes from Pensacola.

Centered by the Rolling Thunder roller coaster, which runs the entire length of the 14-acre amusement park, The Park at OWA, open to the public on Friday, features 21 rides, two restaurants, and a classic boardwalk feel, with strolling entertainers, carnival games and more.

The Park at OWA — “big water” in the Creek Indian language — is being developed by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in cooperation with state and local government to accompany Foley’s new  $40 million sports tourism facilities, which include 16 state-of-the-art outdoor sports fields, which opened last year, and a 90,000-square-foot indoor events center slated to open this summer.

Stilt walkers entertain guests during the Media Night

Stilt walkers entertain guests during the Media Night presentation at The Park at OWA in Foley, Alabama. Phil Bailey/

During an opening ceremony at The Park that featured tribal drums, dancers in traditional garb and fireworks, Stephanie A. Bryan, Tribal Chair and CEO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said the tribe was excited about “creating a new destination in Alabama.”

“OWA is all about families and good times,” Bryan said. “The tribe, and our extended family, we value good times spent together. From the very beginning, we believed we could create something really special here for families, whether they’re on vacation or they’re here to play soccer or lacrosse. And today, here we are, ready to start having fun and making memories.”

OWA’s future development includes a 154,000-square-foot retail and restaurant village that will accompany The Park. Visitors to The Park walked in through the first portion of this open-air plaza, with stores that will begin opening over the next few months including the second largest U.S. location of Wahlburgers, a restaurant chain owned by Chef Paul Wahlberg and his famous brothers, Academy Award-nominated actor Mark and singer/actor Donnie, as seen on the A&E reality TV series. Other tenants will include Sunglass World, Fairhope Soap Company, Alvin’s Island, Hershey’s Ice Cream Shop and Utopia.

A 14-acre lake with a 1.5-acre island is also expected to open this year and is slated to include a 400-seat outdoor amphitheater and boathouse, boat rentals and fountain shows.

Future plans for the complex include a luxury RV resort; four hotels, including one with conference facilities; a resort-level condominium; and an outdoor water park.

The initial phases represent a $241 million investment by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The overall capital investment will total more than $500 million. The facility is expected to provide thousands of jobs and have a more than $244 million annual economic impact.

“It’s deeply gratifying to us to know that we’ve created jobs, not just through direct employment, but also from OWA’s overall economic impact,” Bryan said. “As a tribe, we want OWA’s values to be felt here and across the state.”

During the opening ceremony, Alabama Senator Greg Albritton marveled not just at the park, but at the progress made by the tribe.

“It wasn’t very long ago when the Poarch Creek Indians were living in the backwoods, in obscurity, on the dirt roads of Escambia County, and mostly in poverty,” Albritton said. “That wasn’t but, well, maybe a generation or two ago. And now look where they are. They are a force, an economic force, in the state of Alabama and nationally, and now, the tentacles are going international. This is great and wonderful.”