Families no longer have to drive out of town for family fun. Lake Area Adventures opened its doors last week, and the 35,000-square-foot, one-stop entertainment center has something for all ages: rock-climbing, a 10,500 inflatable air “park,” a ropes course, virtual reality to vintage video game consoles, a special room for toddlers, party rooms for special events and birthday celebrations, a 1,700 square foot swimming pool, swimming lessons, boat and kayak rentals and The Terrace, a restaurant with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating that serves up award-winning dishes and flavors from reigning Queen of Louisiana Seafood, Chef Amanda Cusey. “You can no longer say there’s nothing to do in Lake Charles,” said Phillip Tarver during the ribbon cutting ceremony last week. Tim Robles is Lake Area Adventures co-owner/general manager. He has lived “all over,” and joined the military in 2000.
“I was stationed in Fort Polk as a Black Hawk Helicopter Crew Chief,” he said. “I met my wife Chelsie when I came back from a deployment.” They fell in love and married. An outdoorsman who loved being on the water, he also fell head over heels in love with Lake Charles, and couldn’t understand why others didn’t feel the same way. That love is germane to the story of how Lake Area Adventures – something not just new to Lake Charles but completely different than any entertainment center anywhere – came to be. “It didn’t click just how much I loved it here until the day after Hurricane Laura,” Robles said. “We rode out the storm, and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Department called and asked us if we could use the trucks to get out on the road to get the linemen in. So, we were some of the first to survey the damage. That’s when it hit me, just how much I loved it here.”
Robles met and got to know Eric and Corey Tarver, David Minton and Jerry “Sarge” Antoine. “We had all worked hard and we all had put a little money aside,” he said. “We thought about a business. We prayed about it.” Early conversations included the idea of inspiring a sense of adventure in others as well as an appreciation of the assets of this area, thus the name Lake Area Adventures.
Lake Area Adventures is a $5 million investment, but it didn’t start big. Beginnings were humble and involved long hours and sweat. To an extent, they still do, according to Robles who leaves only after all the staff has gone and has even pitched in to help wash dishes.
“Sarge was renting kayaks on the lakefront, and he loved doing it,” Robles said. “He and I bought two pontoon boats off the side of the road, stripped them down and rebuilt them. We started renting boats and kayaks. When True Blue Watersports became available, we started offering swim lessons. Lake Area Adventures actually opened at its Common St. location in 2017.”
Lake Area Adventures might not have started big, but Tim Robles started thinking big from the get-go.
‘Gentleman, I have an idea’
“We wanted to create something the community could be proud of,” Robles said. “We asked ourselves, what would happen if we set out to do that – and not cut any corners.”
He talked with the Tarvers, Minton and Antoine. After some time, he asked them to meet him at the old lumber yard on Country Club Road.
“I pulled out my tablet and told them, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking.’”
Robles had chosen ideas from other facilities he had seen in person and on the internet. He created a pro forma, but a detailed marketing plan wasn’t possible. Nothing quite like this had ever been done before.
He expected his business partners to tell him he was crazy. He needed them to tell him that to rein him back in.
They didn’t. “We burned the ships,” Robles said. “We even started using that acronym in our communications, BTS.” (When Cortes arrived in what is now Mexico, his crew was tired and this was new, uncharted territory that presented many obstacles. He burned his ships so there would be no turning back.)
The team decided to visit five banks to ask for financing. Robles presented the plan and gave the banks his terms during the first interview. His terms. He was gracious about it, but the group agreed, if the bank wasn’t interested, then they would go to the next bank and the next. If the idea was a crazy one, asking for a loan from five different banks and not getting it was a surefire way to find out.
Four of the five banks called the team back in less than 24 hours.
Robles decided to run the idea up the flag-pole again; this time he pitched his vision to two men he highly respected for their business acumen and wisdom, Phillip Tarver and Rick Richard.
After he explained the concept, he said, “Tell me I’m crazy.” They didn’t. Instead they said they had been waiting for something like this. Lake Charles needed a family fun facility, but such an investment would not promise a big, fast return. Robles is not sure when it will, and continues to struggle with the challenge of setting responsible membership and admission prices that are affordable.
Lake Area Adventure partners did think Robles was crazy to ask Amanda Cusey on board. “They were thinking concession stand food, canned cheese and chips, maybe a hot dog and burger.”
He gladly takes credit for hiring the award-winning chef to create an eatery to be on par with local restaurants, with food that would make the adults’ wait for their kids more pleasant. (Ages 14 and under must have an adult present.) The Terrace offers burgers and hot dogs, but also braised beef cheeks, shrimp and grits, shrimp and crab cakes and more. It has a kids’ menu with hot dogs, grilled cheese and chicken strips. It even has a dog menu.
“When I showed Amanda my plan I explained to her that it wasn’t a fancy restaurant and she said, ‘No, I’m in. I love what you guys are doing.” Robles also promises entertainment delivered by an engaging staff. He calls them the number one attraction of Lake Area Adventures.
Crazy like a fox
During the ribbon cutting ceremony, Phillip Tarver said he remembered thinking six months ago how crazy he thought it was that Robles and his gang thought they could build Lake Area Adventures in less than a year.
The project blew through all timetables that one would expect, from empty shell to opening day in five and a-half months.
Tim Robles explained, “If an obstacle arose, we surrounded that obstacle and found a solution.” Tarver said to just imagine how the state of Louisiana could be if it would take the same approach to planning for the future needs of its residents, “to not look at the state as it is, but what it could be.”
Published 1:51 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023 By Rita Lebleu
Read more at: https://www.americanpress.com/2023/04/05/lake-area-adventures-the-story-of-how-a-new-business-model-came-to-be/