SANTA CLAUS - Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus Thursday announced plans to invest $5.5 million into improvements in 2019, including transformation of the park's signature restaurant into five different eateries with a candy store, bakery and coffee shop. The plan also includes track improvements to The Voyage, the world's second-longest wooden roller coaster. President Matt Eckert says construction of the new Santa's Merry Marketplace is part of an effort to put more of a spotlight on Christmas at the world’s first theme park.

"We looked at our flagship restaurant, Kringles Kafe, and said, you know what, this needs to be bigger, this needs to be better, this needs to really make people feel like it's Christmas when they come in," Eckert said. In a Studio(i) interview, he talked about the investment plan and the need for additional development around the park.

Although he did not reveal specific attendance numbers, Eckert says the park is winding up "a strong year," adding that since 2006 the venue has averaged more than 1 million visitors.

Eckert said the rapid growth at Holiday World underscores the need for hotel development in Santa Claus, a town of 2,500 residents. "If anyone is interested in building a hotel or lodging of any kind, that's the place to do it, because it's a prime market."