Employees say Wasserbahn closure came without warning, still don’t know if they’ll be paid

Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 6:16 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -Staff at Wasserbahn are left with bounced paychecks, questions, and for some no place to live after the waterpark and hotel closed suddenly earlier this week.

Ruth Wheeler and her two sons call Wasserbahn’s hotel in Williamsburg home. Wheeler works at the front desk.

“We were told on this last Sunday that there was a possibility this was going to happen. Then on Monday we were told not to make any reservations. Tuesday we were told we were closed without warning,” she explained.

The closure means Wheeler, her boys, one of whom is handicapped, plus a handful of other workers who live in the building, will soon be without a home.

”We’ve been given permission the few that are left, to stay until the end of the month but our propane is running out for hot water so we don’t know how much longer we have out here,” Wheeler said.

Stephanie Stevenson moved to the area with her family to manage Wasserbahn.

”I just closed on a house because I had to live so close to the Waterpark,” Stevenson said.

Staff say they aren’t getting many answers from the owners. The Iowa’s Secretary of State lists two firms as owning Wasserbahn and the hotel, Avari Investments LLC and Smock Investments LLC.

Property records list Avari as the deed holder. Yule Park owns Avari. Attempts to reach Park for this story were unsuccessful but he spoke to TV9 when he bought Wasserbahn out of bankruptcy in 2014.

“The hay day is in the past but I think we can rejuvenate at least the life back here,” Park said at the time.

Property Records show Smock Investments is owned by Thomas Smock, who was on contract to buy Wasserbahn in 2019. That’s a process where Smock would make payments over time. When we contacted Smock he claimed that contract ended in 2021, but property records show otherwise.

Smock now lives in Florida and runs a resort there. Staff say, they haven’t seen him in weeks.

”About two or three weeks ago he came in pulled money from the safe and stuff saying he had to pay the mortgage,” Wheeler said.

Meanwhile, Wheeler told us employees often put up their own money to keep things running and struggled to get paid.

”The last month or so there were a lot of people whose checks were being bounced. They weren’t being able to cash them. So when that happened they had to come back into the hotel and we had to pay them money either from the safe or a personal check written,” she explained.

Smock denies that employees haven’t been paid, but says Avari is in charge of the payroll.

Staff are still uncertain about what’s next.

”I’m getting all my personal things that I put money into out of here and and then as far as the next step, honestly I don’t know,” said Stevenson.

”There’s nothing for rent so we’re just not sure where we’re going to go what were going to do. You know we’re probably going to be out in the cold here in a week or so once the propane runs out here,” explained Wheeler.

While denying he’s the owner, Smock confirmed Wasserbahn will be bulldozed to make way for a new gas station.

It’s not just staff caught off guard by the closure. Several bands were contracted to perform at the hotel this year. Unbalanced was slated to perform at the hotel next weekend. They said they never got notice from Wasserbahn that they were closing despite having a contract.

“Fans that were planning on attending the upcoming Wasserbahn show don’t need to wait too long to see Unbalanced, they will be live at the Chrome Horse on Friday, March 25th,” the band said Friday.

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