This probably belongs in the Ole South thread, but i'm putting it here as it discusses this park as well. I give Ole South about zero percent chance of taking off!
Another theme Park? Really?
One more dreamer dares to tread where amusement parks go to die
By Hollie Deese Updated 10:03AM
David Webb grew up in Nashville and has plenty of fond memories of spending time at Opryland USA every summer. He moved from the area as an adult and spent 10 years in Orlando, most of it working for Disney.
But the pull of home was great and he decided to move back to Middle Tennessee with his family. And when he got here, he was sad to see the music-filled theme park was gone.
That void got the wheels turning, and one day over lunch with a buddy about six years ago Webb came up with a concept for a new theme park, Ole South USA.
“We all know the area needs something like this,” he says. “When I did the research for future theme parks, one of the things that kept coming up was there needs to be some sort of connection to the local culture. So I thought a theme park about the southeast corner of the United States could showcase everything that is vibrant about the South.”
Planned for Maury County, the park’s website went live last month. Conceptual plans show roller coasters, live shows, a venue for weddings, an amphitheatre, rafting, stunt shows and more.
Webb’s background would seem a natural for this business. Before moving back, he worked on television projects in Orlando, including Nickelodeon’s Figure It Out and Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club. He also produced and cowrote all 260 episode of a game show, Culture Quest, that ran in Vietnam for five seasons.
His production house, The David Webb Company, is currently shopping a children’s game show, Karpool Kids, and produces corporate training videos, promotional videos, music videos, etc.
“It is a big vision and big project,” Webb says of Ole South. “But the feasibility study says we are ready for something like this. I have been back since 2001 and the area has grown tremendously since then. And a lot of young families are moving here and all of us with children would love for something like this to come to the area.”
The feasibility study Webb commissioned was by Cochrane Consulting, a California-based company specializing in themed amusement parks, museums, science centers, aquariums, halls of fame, world’s fairs, animal parks, casino-based attractions and urban entertainment centers. Cochrane Consulting has long been affiliated with the Harrison Price Company, whose founder, Harrison Price, conducted all of the site location and economic feasibility studies for Disneyland and Disney World.
“We have developed over the decades a formula for determining the feasibility of an area,” says Fred Cochrane, who worked with Price himself before he died two years ago.
“Essentially we start off with population, income, family characteristics, age, those kinds of things, just to understand the market. We do the same thing with the tourist market to the extent there is information available, or we create our own estimates based on hotel room counts and composition of hotel room occupants.”
Cochrane takes that information and compares it with the type of attraction that is proposed, how it compares to existing attractions and compares the market penetration rates to get an idea how well the new project will do. And he says Webb is right on, partly due to the attendance success of Opryland.
“After Opryland had been operating for several years, they asked Price to come in to help them, and he wrote them what I think was an excellent report,” Cochrane says. “We have background on Nashville that goes back a number of years and have looked at a number of other things there too, so we know that market quite well.”
Opryland had more than two million visitors per year, he explains, but its labor costs were too high.
“It was related more to live entertainment, and when your payroll goes up too high it is very difficult to make money in the seasonal attraction field. ut they proved the market.
“The people are there, the bodies are there, if you do the right thing to attract them,” he adds. “Gaylord did that with Opryland, but probably their downfall was they just had too much payroll, so their profit margins were not what they wanted and they had other alternatives. So they went to the other alternatives.”
Cochrane did his study for Webb before the announcement of the new water and snow park being built by Dollywood and Gaylord across the street from the old Opryland site. He says Middle Tennessee can handle both.
“They are oriented to a different market,” Cochrane says. “If Dollywood decided to go in there with a full-blown theme park and David had already committed to his, I think it would be some difficulties for both. But they are so different I think it further fills out the attraction for people to come to Nashville in the summertime when those outdoor facilities are open.”
Last year another theme park was announced for Maury County, Festival Tennessee, but quickly fell through. Bible Park USA, which billed itself as an “edutainment experience,” announced plans in 2007 to build a theme park in Murfreesboro, but zoning issues and neighborhood opposition sent developers fleeing north to Lebanon. That fell through when the Lebanon City Council nixed tax incentives.
Ole South USA’s concept calls for roller coasters, live shows, a venue for weddings, an amphitheatre, rafting, stunt shows and more. There is no firm timeline for completion of the park, which is proposed for Maury County.
Colleen Mangone, media relations manager for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, says there are 400 amusement parks in the country but no way to tell how many parks are announced and never come to fruition. Cochrane says it happens all the time, especially in the last few years.
“It depends partly on the cooperation of the local governments and what they are willing to accommodate, like the need for a connector to a major highway for example,” he says. “More often than not it is an ill-conceived project by a promoter who doesn’t know what they are talking about and hasn’t had a feasibility study done.
“But in the last few years it is not unusual for this kind of project to not be able to get financing.”
Having a history of success like Dollywood certainly helps an area, especially as there is an existing cash flow to help finance the new project.
Webb is trying a crowd sourcing model to finance the first phase of his project.
“Crowd funding has been the new way to raise seed capital to really get early phase tasks done, especially for a big project like this,” Webb says.
“You couldn’t raise the money you need to build a park through crowd sourcing, but for some of these early tasks, it is possible. We can take that with the feasibility study to present to some investors we have lined up to bring them on board for the bigger round of funding.”
Ole South USA’s website is touting Pioneer Club membership, which, for $25, entitles members to such perks as an Ole South USA decal, a sneak-peek pass before the park opens and “future perks once the park opens.” He hopes to sell 3,500 but has sold only 89 so far.
There is no time frame for Ole South USA, other than he would like to get started as soon as possible. But there might be a renewed sense of urgency after last week’s announcement that the defunct Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville would reopen as Bluegrass Boardwalk in May 2013. Four hours up I-65 from Maury County, it is yet another entertainment option that could be considered competition.
Owner Dan Koch has been in the theme park business his whole life. He is the third generation operator of Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. – a little closer to Middle Tennessee than Kentucky Kingdom – and had always thought about someday expanding. When he was approached about buying the old Kentucky Kingdom location, his company did some research and then went for it.
“After we went down there and looked at the pieces, it looked like something we could do, revitalize it, reenergize it and make a go of it” he says. “We looked at that park and what it had done in the past and think we can get it back to where it was.”
Koch anticipates hiring 25 full-time and 800 seasonal employees once the park is open, and employing local workers to build the infrastructure before then.
“If you look at the economic impact a park has on a community, it is enormous,” he says.
Webb may have been nervous when he first heard about the Dollywood/Gaylord announcement, but is confident now it will only help boost his chances for success.
“I had a little catch in my stomach,” he says. “But I called several people in the industry and the consensus was this is the best thing that could happen for my project. It shows investors that this market is worthy for investing this type of funding.”