James Austin is an energetic, engaging Englishman who had traveled halfway around the world and all across America, but (to paraphrase the poet) still hadn’t found what he was looking for. Then he came to Ocean Shores and literally discovered a paradise. Now it’s his.
Austin, 44, is the new owner of Pacific Paradise Park, the family fun center located behind the Ocean Shores Convention Center at 767 Minard Ave. The complex opened in the late 1990s and features 36 holes of mini golf, bumper boats and a 5,000-square foot arcade.
The golf courses have been freshened up and the noisy outboard-powered bumper boats have been replaced with quiet electric ones, complete with on-board water guns. The arcade building has undergone a “gut rehab,” stripped completely down to the walls, with some of the space reconfigured. While the arcade still offers a few classic games such as pinball and air hockey, all the games and everything else in the building are completely new.
Austin cheerfully admits, “I went all in,” to make real a dream he’s been nurturing for 25 years.
His parents are English citizens who were in Charleston, South Carolina, when their son was born, giving him dual citizenship. He grew up in Bath, England, and returned to the United States at age 19. His first job here was working as a one-man “Fool the Weight Guesser,” at an amusement park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He said being “cheeky and friendly” and having a heavy English accent made him a success.
“I’ve been in the amusement and arcade business since coming to America,” he explained, “and progressed to owning a business in San Diego,” operating several attractions at Belmont Park on Mission Beach in San Diego.
“My dream has always been to own a property for my business,” he continued. After two years of online research and visits to several amusement type businesses, Pacific Paradise “was the one that really caught my attention and made an impression.”
Being on the coast was “a major draw. I’ve almost always lived close to the water.” Plus, he found a lot of things to like here — the “amazing landscapes,” a “very interesting and charming town,” and a “very positive, welcoming vibe” from the locals.
And there’s the local housing market. “This is the best bargain for living on the coast, possible in the whole country,” Austin enthused. He explained that two business associates came with him from San Diego to work and live here because they can afford to become homeowners here, something that was far beyond their reach in the San Diego housing market.
Austin completed the purchase from owner Dave Carswell on April 30 and immediately launched two months of renovation and remodeling, with his wife and three daughters joining the effort. He said there has been “much interest in the remodeling. Everybody’s been super nice, super supportive and the feedback has been very positive.” Pacific Paradise reopened July 1.
He intends to get involved with some local nonprofit charities and possibly work with the local schools to encourage and reward good student citizenship, achievement and grades. He’s made the park greener, with all LED lighting, and is looking into adding solar panels.
To get this far, Austin has “spent way more than I care to admit, but it’s all considered to be worthwhile,” he said. “This is without any doubt my whole life investment, financially, emotionally and in my heart. This is it. I went all in!”
Pacific Paradise is open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10-10 Friday and Saturday. Their phone is 360-289-9537. In addition to Facebook and Instagram pages, they have a detailed website at www.pacificparadisepark.com.