Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Regional Theme Park Industry 101, Part 4: Where and When?

The final part of the Regional Theme Park Industry 101 series is about the future and the new parks coming online one day soon and those ideas that will disappear into the void.


In the late 2010s, the story about building new parks isn't any different than it was in the 2000s, the 1990s, or even the 1980s. It costs a lot of money. A lot lot. And even though there's multiple markets with huge populations that seem like good places to develop one according to the raw numbers (Phoenix, Miami, Portland OR, Sacramento, Austin), almost no one in the industry wants to build new outside Orlando. And those outside the industry often look at the case studies of past new parks and shy away:

MGM Grand Adventures: 10 seasons attached to one of the largest hotels in the world in a place where it basically never snows; that was the fate of this long lost studio park which ran from 1993 to 2002.

Elitch Gardens: The current Elitch's opened in 1994 on a cleaned up toxic waste site. It was sold a whole two years later.

Wild Adventures: Kent Buescher spent a lot of money expanding the hell out of Wild Adventures (opened in 1996), and then expanding the hell out of Cypress Gardens after he picked it up in a fire sale. The parent company went bankrupt in 2006; Herschend owns it now.

Visionland: Opened for business outside Birmingham, Alabama in 1998, and went bankrupt by 2002.

Bonfante Gardens: Opened in June 2001, attendance never matched expectations, and Paramount came in to operate it in 2003. It was sold to the city of Gilroy, CA in 2008.

Jazzland: Gates were unlocked for the first time in 2000, and it was sold to Six Flags early in 2002 after attendance had dropped by half.

Wild West World: The Kansas themer lasted two months after opening in 2007 and the owner went to federal prison for fraud. Yikes.

Hard Rock Park: Hundreds of millions went into it and went nowhere. It closed early in its debut season of 2008, reopened in 2009 under the name "Freestyle Music Park", and then was shuttered forever.

Islands of Adventure: Wait, really? But IOA didn't change hands, did...oh, it kinda did, didn't it? Yes, IOA was started by MCA, opened by Seagram's, 50% stake purchased by Blackstone in 2000, then merged into French conglomerate Vivendi before winding up with Comcast making it whole again.

That's a whole lot of failures, and you can see why there's not many people rushing to try and replicate that kind of success. But still, all those failures required someone knowing that there were so many developments that ended in tears and still were able to acquire necessary funds. Undoubtedly, someone will manage to do this again. And some are.


Park at OWA (Foley, Alabama): Backed with Native American casino money and part of a large entertainment/sports development, OWA came out of nowhere when it was announced and opened in mid 2017. The park is full of Zamperla attractions; only Zamperla attractions, in fact. I hope you get a discount when you buy an entire park. According to them, season pass stock ran out way before they expected. Whether that's because they bought preposterously little or because the park is doing great business, you decide.

Legoland New York (Goshen, NY): Merlin managed to get a big chunk of land about an hour away from New York City, and chances are the native parks are chomping their fingernails. The Lego brand is hot and if the park can deliver on the promise for family entertainment, it should have no problem succeeding even as a seasonal venture. Who needs to be concerned are the facilities on the periphery of New York that depend on group sales: Quassy, New Roc City, Lake Compounce, Long Island Adventureland, and Great Escape, just to name a few.

American Dream (Meadowlands, NJ): Much closer than Goshen and indoors, American Dream is the completed vision of the Xanadu project. The same group behind West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America are in charge here, and there's a slate of rides already sold and getting ready for install ahead of a 2019 opening. Since the exterior is all done, this is a safe bet to open.


Grand Texas Theme Park
(New Caney, TX): A karting track and RV park have opened during the 7-8 years that have passed since the park was announced for metro Houston. It may be another 7-8 before we see a real theme park to go with it. Earth is moving again, potentially for a water park (so they claim), but Big Rivers Water Park has also been many years in the making with millions spent on roads, plumbing, and electrical line leading to nowhere...yet. Of the future projects, this is still the one with by far the most potential.

Adventure Pointe (Texas City, TX): Staying right in the greater Houston area, we've got Adventure Pointe. This is not going to be a big park by any stretch of the imagination: it will be similar to the only significant new themed developments of the last 20 years to succeed with the ownership group that built them. I'm talking about the Fertitta's properties in this market: Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier, Kemah Boardwalk, and Downtown Aquarium. There's some big ol' iron flat rides at these parks, an outstanding wooden roller coaster, and two of the most complex train attractions you'll ever see. Just look:

Adventure Pointe mixes retail, shopping, and rides. And unlike Grand Texas, there's actually stuff installed. Most notably, a one mile train loop that will go around the entire property. There's also concept art that is helpful for guidance:

In it, we can see a few flat rides like some form of a Polyp and an interactive Heege tower (riders pull themselves up on ropes and then descend: Dollywood and the Legoland parks have these). There's also what has been revealed to be a go-kart track as part of the complex. Zamperla is known to be supplying three rides, but it is still unknown precisely what all of them are. And of course the second piece of art clearly indicates that the train will have a "show scene" located under the "rapids ride." While updates post-hurricanes have been sparse, it is hoped that the facility may open in 2018 or 2019.


Dreamport Villages (Casa Grande, AZ): Way below most people's radar is this proposed and semi-approved to be developed park south of Phoenix. It's here in the "Long Shots" area as there are still hurdles related to construction of roads and the whole "It's a $4 billion dollar development" aspect. A 60+ acre indoor park and a 163 acre "coaster park" are slated as part of the development. One of the attractions discussed is a 400 mph hyperloop style people mover called the Velocitator intended as a proof of concept for its maker (president? actor Matthew Modine). That's pretty wild stuff.

Parkscope's crack investigation squad of one (me) took a look at the particulars to see what there was to be gleaned from the developers names. Ronald Segall is listed as the lead manager for the project and for Block Sports; he's listed as a manager on 20 corporations filed in the state of Florida in the last 20 years. Among the people he's shown to be working with are Phil Ruggieri of IDEAS and zip line operator innovator Karry Gemmell, as well as a rated "F" by the Better Business Bureau pool construction company and the company built around this children's book that has Paris Jackson (yes, Michael Jackson's kid) on the cover and supposedly contracted for multiple films which never happened. Mr. Segall passed the bar in the state of Florida and went to the University of Miami's Law School, before becoming part of what appears to be the family real estate development business now run by his brother (?), Sandy. They've developed some reasonably sized stuff, but I admit some concern about seeing Aulani and Disneyland Tokyo appearing in their slide shows as "experience".

Whirligig Woods (Saxapahaw, NC) Bob Baranick had a long run in the theme park industry doing design work: now he wants to give back and produce a park for rural North Carolina. Locals were outraged that he hadn't talked with them first so that he could be told he was a bad man for altering their small bubble, and he's a long way from obtaining necessary funding.

Dream Landing Adventure Park (Biloxi, MS? New Orleans, LA?): Danny Rogers made a name for himself with various schemes to rebuild Six Flags New Orleans, and by golly he's still at it, this time along with a plan to build an amusement park in Biloxi by next Spring. He's managed to get into it with people on various forums who question his methods and honesty, and I don't even know if there's a real audience still watching now in 2017. I don't know what if any applicable experience he actually has. Maybe none. But that's what theme park development in this era usually looks like: electronic panhandling by men with such obscure histories, they can't possibly be researched.

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