Monday, December 21, 2009

Thoughts on Theme Park Development...

I know, I's a pipe dream to think that I could ever design and develop my own theme park idea into something that becomes a reality. What do I know about the business end, or the creative end, or the development end? I'm a dentist. I know teeth.

Then again, what did Walt Disney know about creating the first real "theme park" experience? What, for that matter, did he know about creating the first feature length animated film? Walt didn't much worry about that stuff. He just "did". He had lots of help, to be certain, and a brother who backed him about 98%. He was successful when he did something, generally, and people came to believe in him, to trust him, to have confidence in his inspirations.

I keep thinking about this subject. Some nights I "think" myself to sleep with planning such a project. I usually skip right over the hard part - getting started. In my pre-sleep daydreams, I'm usually at the point of figuring out what's around this corner or that bend, in my park layout. The devil isn't so much in the details of the park. It's in getting a start.

I don't know the history behind other themed entertainment developments like I do about Disney...not saying I'm some sort of Disney History expert or anything, just that I know how Walt got from point A (his dream) to point B (actually starting). He had a studio behind him. He had a relationship with another studio, ABC. He had access to a talented group of artists and builders - the "Nine Old Men". He had ways to get credit from banks to help fund his idea. And last, he had a pretty large stock of creative content to draw upon. In my opinion, it's the CONTENT that drives most of the theme in his theme parks.

I don't have any of these things. I'm not a very good artist. I don't have any big organization to stand behind me. I don't necessarily have people around me who are interested in doing this sort of thing (my 9- and 7-year old sons don't really count...though they'd probably be willing to loan me that contents of their piggy banks to make a park). I certainly don't have a body of content to draw theme from.

Can it be done without this content? When you think about the other rivals to Disney for the theme park dollar, mostly you come up with Universal Studios parks. They're doing the Harry Potter thing, and they are drawing their content from numerous sources, everything from Marvel comic heroes to Dr. Suess. I've not been to Legoland California, or to Knott's Berry Farm, but I did go to Santa's Village in the suburbs of Chicago. They used a theme without a ton of content. The park was the "North Pole" (sort of) and this was Santa's land. That has the makings of a pretty strong theme, and indeed, the park was profitable for many years. It closed in the last 4 or 5 years, but I have fond memories of it from my childhood.

Disney's own EPCOT sort of does it without using Disney's body of content. I posted elsewhere that EPCOT might be the only Disney park that would be reproducible in another location. So maybe it follows that a theme park that uses EPCOT as its inspiration could work elsewhere. Even in a cold climate.

Because that's where I'm interested in placing this imaginary theme park. I want to do it in my small city, not too far from Chicago. When I rule out the climate, I think the area has a lot to recommend it. It's within an hour of two pretty big airports. A third airport is proposed, and if it gets developed, it would be pretty close by. It's close to a world class city with plenty of other things to do. It has a pretty good source of labor. It's by the crossroads of two major highways, and it's accessible by Amtrack as well.

It has a few things to make it not exactly ideal also. The weather here can be beautiful, but it can really stink too. While the crime rate isn't sky high, we have our share of "bad" neighborhoods. The downtown is perhaps on its way up, but it isn't too far from its bottom still. Did I mention the weather? Right now there is about a half inch of snow on the ground. Not bad, considering last year at this time, we had about an inch of ice underneath all the snow.

What makes me think this area could become a tourist destination? Well, what made Walt think that Orlando, Florida or Anaheim, California could become tourist destinations?

When I was getting out of dental school, I asked a physician friend of mine if there was "room" for me to come back to this town and practice dentistry. He said to me that there was always room for quality, that doing quality work would make me successful and it wouldn't matter how many other dentists were around this area.

I think I could apply that sort of thinking to a project like this. Quality will out. If I or someone else could develop something that's worth seeing, people will come see it. Heck, they drive to the middle of Iowa to see the "Field of Dreams" from the movie. I think if it's good enough, local residents will go to it. And maybe, if it's really good, like almost Disney-good, people would come from other parts of the country to see it.

I still know it's a pipe dream, but it doesn't stop me from thinking about it.

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