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Arizona Lawmakers Considering a $700 million
 Theme Park South of Grand Canyon National Park

By Cyndy Cole, The Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 20, 2005 - A Williams investment group is asking state lawmakers to help create a 1,000-acre, multi-themed amusement park near Williams that would be part Disneyland, part Renaissance Festival and bring millions, even billions, into local economies.

The plan is to attract some of the 5 million tourists heading to the Grand Canyon each year and keep them for an overnight stay in Williams or Flagstaff, partly as a way to fend off Las Vegas' successful advertising campaign of flying tourists to the Canyon and taking them back to the casinos.

"We've been pretty content to say we'll take that visitor to the Grand Canyon, then we'll go ahead and let them leave," said Gary Scaramazzo, former mayor of Page and a proponent of the theme park.

State lawmakers are scheduled to decide Thursday morning whether to form a special district to generate taxes inside the $700 million theme park to pay for its construction, a way to guarantee financing for investors who might otherwise be hesitant. Their decision may determine whether such a park is built.

The theme park would be built near the junction of Interstate 40 and Highway 64, an area that averages 16 million passersby per year. Backers hope to attract between 7 million and 8 million customers a year. The average patron is expected to spend about $182 per day.

Among the attractions would be: -- a performing arts pavilion that would seat 3,000 to 5,000 and up to 10 times as many on a lawn -- an amusement park with two roller coasters -- a western theme park -- a Route 66 attraction with sock hops, soda shops and car rallies -- a Renaissance-Medieval section with a castle and jousting pit -- a Navajo museum and arts and crafts site, -- an Asian garden -- two hotels and condos for long-term lease -- a sales and repair facility for sport utility vehicles and motorhomes.

"It looks like they're on track to bring it in," Coconino County Supervisor Matt Ryan said. "It'll be fantastic from a tourism perspective."

The plan is being promoted by investment firm Grand Canyon Northland Amusements and Entertainment LLC. So far, four investment groups -- two in China, one in Europe and one in Korea -- have expressed interest, CEO and Williams hotel owner Mike Morgan said. He declined to name them.

Flagstaff, Coconino and Williams governments could gain between $34 million and $51 million as a result of tax revenue from the park, the investment group said. Due to limited hotel facilities, 75 percent of the visitors would stay in nearby towns, a big boon for Flagstaff and Williams.

This facility would not replace the Arizona Territory theme park that was proposed earlier for a nearby location, Williams City Manager Dennis Wells said.

Even if lawmakers sign off on this park, which is nameless for now, the investment firm would still have to make other deals before the park could be built.

The proposed site for the park is in the Kaibab National Forest, which could swap leases with the Navajo Nation in order to make land available.

The Navajo Nation stands to gain at least $15 million per year from the deal.

Officials for the Navajo Nation didn't return phone calls, but the Forest Service said it hasn't heard much about the park.

"We haven't been involved in any of these discussions," said Cathie Schmidlin, Kaibab National Forest public affairs officer. "At some point in time, somebody needs to come talk to us."

No money can be taken from Coconino County or cities to pay for the park, as currently proposed.

"The bill requires no money from the state, no money from the local governments," Nelson said.

Wells said he and the Williams City Council have been working on such a proposal for more than a year, and they are excited about the prospects.

"The council is certainly welcoming this type of development," he said.

"Williams' lifeblood is tourism ... this is a very tangible way to take back the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas."


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Copyright (c) 2005, The Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff

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