JURMALA - Thankfully, there is a refuge from the torrential rain. Locals and tourists can now hang up their umbrellas and sport their swimwear at the new Livu Aquaprk in Jurmala. Having anticipated the peak season since its December opening, the park was met with one of the wettest and coldest summers Riga has seen in years.
Indeed, the rotten weather has people lining up at the indoor water park to experience some of the fastest slides in northeastern Europe.
With 11,500 square meters and three floors of water slides, laser rivers, kiddy pools, spas, jacuzzis, saunas, restaurants and a full bar - 40 attractions in all - Livu Aquapark is putting Jurmala on the map for summer time destinations.
In fact, it's the biggest of its kind in the Baltic states.
"In Estonia they have Tervis Spa and others, which are more of spa centers than aquaparks," explains Eugenijus Gedzus, director of Livu Aquapark. "We actually have no competition at this time - we're the biggest [in the Baltics] as of now."
Livu Aquapark was an achievement with challenging obstacles, some quite ominous. The park opened just months before the collapse of the Transvaal Waterpark in Moscow made international headlines, sparking a widespread public fear of aquaparks. However, local journalists and clients were assured that during Livu's yearlong construction process, neither a sheet of fiberglass nor a screw went unchecked by safety inspectors.
"The Moscow project was actually started as a disco bar, and just after that they decided to fill it with water," Gedzus explains. "You can't do that. It's necessary to remember that you're building an aquapark, which requires completely different materials."
To prevent deterioration and structure weakening, the construction of an aqua-recreation facility requires a monolith of concrete so water can't seep in between the bricks and wood beams in place of metal, which would rust and corrode from the water's chlorination.
"Our water park doesn't look as nice as Transvaal, which was an exotic building with an excellent view. But we have safety," Gedzus says.
With safety dominating, finding an experienced architect and construction team to carry out this massive project was the hardest part of the process. Finally, a contract was signed with the local architecture company VMS, led by revered Latvian architect Uldis Balodis.
Using an aquapark in Le Bouveret, Switzerland, as a model and working with International Waterpark Management, the team was able to create an entirely new and modern aqua recreation concept.
"The aquapark is unlike anything else built in Latvia. It's a very serious project," Gedzus explains. "During construction we decided to shift the starting point of one of our slides - it took about one week of calculations to move the slide just 1.27 meters. It shows that every centimeter must be taken into account."
Since the park opened in December, it has already done surprisingly well. Even during Latvia's sub-zero winter, Livu saw an average 30,000 - 35,000 people per month. So far this July the park has had 50,000 visitors, with more than 1,000 per day.
"Our fiberglass slides are filled with 32 degree water heating up the tubes, so when the temperature outside drops below 20 degrees the slides are filled with fog, which is just an additional attraction," Gedzus says.
The highest slide at the Livu park is a 22-meter drop, which the average rider flies through in six seconds - setting a speed of 60 kilometers per hour.
The ride Tornado, the park's main attraction and the biggest of its design in Europe, sends riders spiraling through a kaleidoscope of swirls, sounds and lights into a giant water bowl where they then drop down a black hole into another looping slide. For those who get week knees at the thought of such a thing, the park offers a special area for relaxing in swimming pools, jacuzzis, and saunas.
Although pricewise Livu Aquapark tickets are half that of their European competitors, some complain that the prices - 12 lats (18 euros) for an all-day adult ticket - are expensive. But Gedzus insists that the prices are affordable for the average Latvian. And the fact that 60 percent of the park's visitors are locals confirms this, in his opinion.
"Statistical information shows that in 2002, the average person in Riga spent 9.22 lats per month on entertainment," Gedzus says. "Now it's up to about 15 lats, and we are more or less on that level."
But to be sure, this water-wonder attraction will bring more tourism and more money into the Jurmala area. Already 40 percent of park visitors are from outside the country - the majority from Lithuania - and the heated indoor park has already increased winter tourism to the beach town, according to Jurmala Mayor Juris Hlevickis.
"Of course this aquaproject has helped and will continue to help attract people to Jurmala," Hlevickis says. "In the first three months of this year we have already had 120,000 visitors in Jurmala. And because it's an indoor attraction, the aquapark will especially help our winter and fall business since Jurmala is mainly a summer destination."
As of now, Livu Aquapark has no competition in the Baltics, and Gedzus and his team hope to keep it this way. Although the construction of a similar aquapark is being planned for Vilnius, its opening should have little effect on Livu's business, but rather the two will serve as competitive promotion.
"The goal is to have our clients go visit the aquaparks twice - once here and once in Vilnius." Gedzus says. "We want to keep our competition equal. It will be better for everyone that way."