Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More ramblings on designing a theme park...

In the last post, I sort of rambled on about whether it would even be possible to design a "theme park" for a small midwestern town near Chicago. There are challenges, to be sure. But aren't there challenges anywhere? The major challenge for Walt Disney, it seems, was simply that no one had really ever done what he was trying to do. Everyone said it was a folly; it would not be a success. No way. But Walt proved the naysayers wrong, simply by doing it the way he believed would be best, and, maybe more importantly, the way it would have entertainment value and interest for him.

Then the challenges in Florida, not the least of which was how to build a theme park on swamp land. That challenge entailed a massive engineering effort to drain the land and create "lakes" and "rivers" where marshes had previously existed. He had the economic power to get certain concessions from the Florida state government, basically making him his own local governing agency.

The challenges in the upper midwest mostly involve the weather, assuming that land could be acquired and governments and civic organizations could be gotten on board. There are plenty of amusement parks in this part of the country. But they operate seasonally, closing for good by (at the latest) early November, and reopening in the spring, usually in April for weekends only. I personally wouldn't want my theme park to be a half year enterprise. I'd like to operate year round.

This limitation gives me two possibilities. First, a completely enclosed structure could be built. As I mentioned in a previous post, Disney considered making a theme park in St. Louis, where the weather is a little better than here, but where it is still a factor. When he considered this location, imagineers apparently drew up plans for a four story building, one square city block in size. (A Haunted Mansion was to be the focal point of that park.) Imagineers apparently also pulled out those plans when designing the "World Bazaar" for Tokyo Disneyland.

As some (including the author of Futureprobe, in response to that aforementioned post) have noted, enclosed structures have been done on a large scale. The Mall of America is one such structure. I've never been to that one, but I have been to other large-scale malls (there are many around the Chicagoland area) and one completely enclosed amusement park, done in the 1970's, called " Old Chicago". This park was in suburban Bolingbrook, and consisted of a "mall" with stores around the outside, and a fairly large amusement park in the central open area. Attractions included a rollercoaster with a couple of corkscrew type inversions, a log flume ride, several spinning rides, and other standard amusement park attractions, like a carousel and (I believe) a ferris wheel. That particular park wasn't profitable in the end, partly because the amusement park part couldn't compete with Great America and other area parks, and the mall part certainly couldn't compete with places like Woodfield and Yorktown. Neither one was good enough. About the only thing it had going for it was that it could operate year round, and as a high school kid at that time, I can tell you that it was a popular destination for our group outings and date nights in the winter months.

The second possibility is to mimic EPCOT and design a multi-acre park that consists of wonderful landscaping and pavilions which host the attractions. I am partial to this sort of design, but it too has limits. First, it requires a bunch of land compared to that enclosed structure. Second, the weather will play a role in wintertime usage, where you'd have to contend with snow packed walkways. A day like yesterday, for example, in the Chicagoland area, would see snow falling gently all day. But we've also seen near blizzard conditions.

I suppose that EPCOT in Florida has to contend with hurricane season down there. I was actually at Disney in 2004 (I think) when Hurricane Jeanne hit. We were staying at the Port Orleans, got in a few hours before they closed the airports. The tollway booths were abandoned; you simply drove right through. We got to WDW and were told that the parks were closed (we realized this would be the case) and that we'd better plan on staying in our room all day on Sunday. We provisioned up with cereals and non-perishable foods, a small styrofoam cooler (that we overpaid for) for milk and such for the kids, and some bottled water. Then we got to watch the trees parallel the ground for most of the day, until about 5 or 6 pm, when we could go outside finally. The parks opened the next day, and obviously they weren't terribly crowded.

Anyway, with preparation, and maybe walkways that could be covered, possibly heated, good drainage, etc etc, you could make open spaces that would be as beautiful in the winter as they would be in the summer. I like this idea. But it seems far less do-able to me than simply enclosing the entire structure from the get-go.

Water parks and some of Disney's own location based entertainment ideas seem to suggest that this is feasible. And since we're just pipe-dreaming here, we'll forget about the costs involved for now, and just concentrate on whether something like this could be accomplished from the technical and engineering standpoint.

See? Isn't this fun?

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