EXCLUSIVE: CEO gives preview of San Jose's new CaliBunga Waterpark

Lauren Martinez Image
Saturday, June 1, 2024
EXCLUSIVE: CEO gives preview of SJ's new CaliBunga Waterpark
CaliBunga Waterpark San Jose CEO Steve Dooner gives a preview ahead of the park's highly anticipated June opening.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Just in time for summer, Raging Waters - now called CaliBunga Waterpark San Jose - is just weeks away from opening in June.

Steve Dooner is the CEO of California Dreamin' Entertainment, which acquired the park.

For the past 90 days, crews have been repairing and revamping the 23-acre park.

RELATED: Raging Waters is returning to San Jose this summer with new name

"This park, what's nice about it is - it's big and you're surrounded by all this nature," Dooner said.

Dooner has quite the career of creating theme parks for Disney and Universal Studios. He started off working at a miniature golf course in Sacramento.

"I met up with a fellow named Nolan Bushnell who founded this video game company called Atari and he was doing a pizza restaurant called Chucky Cheese," Dooner said.

Dooner helped open the first 30 Chucky Cheese locations, and bought and sold the company Malibu Grand Prix.

He said making improvements to this water park hasn't been easy.

"You ever see the movie 'The Money Pit?' Yes. This is it. We have been dealing with dozens of broken waterlines, and not little waterlines but big waterlines," Dooner said.

The work behind the gates has included new food partnerships with Pasqually and Chucky Cheese.

Dooner described the installation of 3 acres of turf.

"This is a high end almost like a competitive golf course grass and underneath it we put a layer of cooling sand, so every morning we spray the whole thing down - it retains the water so when you walk on it it's not hot," Dooner said.

California Dreamin' Entertainment and the city of San Jose, which owns the land, struck a deal earlier this year, with local hiring being key.

They're planning to employ 400 people; to-date they still need to fill 250 more.

Dooner encourages those interested in working at the park to apply.

The plan is to enhance people's experience with all the improvements.

"We're really trying to take this from an average neighborhood waterpark into a higher quality and to manage expectations, we would've loved to have built a whole bunch of new stuff - we didn't have the time, we really only had possession of the park since the end of March," Dooner said.

Councilmember Domingo Candelas said the new operators are making a big investment.

"It's not little money, it's a couple million dollars," Candelas said.

He hopes with new energy back to the park, it can bring new focus to the surrounding Lake Cunningham.

"I'm happy to be able to lead request for proposals to see how we can make the park better well into the future. To be incorporating the marina, and to see how we can potentially reimagine this park for decades to come for the community to be able to enjoy it quite frankly," Candelas said.

For Dooner and his team, he said the homestretch is the fun part.

"This is where all of a sudden what looks like you're never going to get done - gets done. My wife has been here a couple times she walks through and she's like - you're not going to get it done and I said just watch. The magic happens overnight," Dooner said.

The opening is set for sometime in June. This week, Dooner said they're in the process of clearing hurdles with the state.

"And unlike a lot of parks that every year they come in and inspect, they'll typically say OK, here's your laundry list you got 30 days to fix this. In our case being that we're new, you can't open until you fix it," Dooner said.

Once doors open, Dooner is most looking forward to seeing the joy in people.

"Seeing the people smile. You know have everyone come through the gate all excited that's the best part about this business," Dooner said.

San Jose resident Martha Quinones and her son Christian drove by the park to see what was happening.

Christian said he has memories of visiting the park every summer.

"I'm excited to back here in the summer hopefully, and spend time here again with family," Quinones said.

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