Monday, July 12, 2010

What I didn't take into consideration...

About 6 months ago I was writing a whole bunch of entries about my pipe dream of developing a theme park in my hometown, near Chicago, Illinois. (Disclaimer: Even as I wrote them, I figured the chance of me actually doing anything about this dream was about .001% - only because there's about the same chance that I might become an astronaut this was pretty much all a thought experiment.) (If you want to read them look at my December and January archives.)

Anyway, I was on vacation last week in New York City (more blog entries to come about things from that trip that may or may not relate to Disney...) and read my newest acquisition, Project Future, by Chad Denver Emerson on the flight there and then before bed for a few nights, finishing it on Wednesday (I think). A very interesting, if a bit dry, book about the process of getting Walt Disney World's construction off the ground, in the purchasing phase of the project, and in the legislative phase also, which I'll be writing about in a little more depth in the future.

But it occurred to me as I read it that there was something I neglected to take into consideration as I wrote my arguments (with myself) that it was possible to develop such a theme park in my part of the country: the guests, customers, whatever you want to call them. What would make them want to come here?

When Disney opened their theme park in California, it was really the only game in town. There were certainly other amusement parks in California, and in the United States, but NOTHING like Disney, which was a place where one could go to experience the worlds of those beloved films that had been produced by the studios. That "new" communication medium, television, was also available to promote the parks, and Walt Disney used it effectively, before anyone else really even knew its power.

So I think Disneyland did become a destination, not just because of the park but because of the location of the park, in a part of the United States that was a desirable vacation destination. And when Walt Disney decided to build the Florida Project, he was thinking in terms of creating another huge tourist destination. "Control" was a word used a lot throughout the Project Future book. He didn't want the cheesy motels and food stands that had blighted his park in California. He wanted guests to come stay with him for a while, and go home satisfied. Even after his death, a lot of the strategy focused on making WDW a tourist destination rather than simply a stop. And it was a strategy that worked.

So what would make a theme park in my part of the country a "destination"? Unfortunately, nothing, at least not the way I've imagined it. I've been thinking in terms of a single indoor theme park with a high level of quality attractions enclosed and a strong overriding theme. I've been thinking of a single hotel, possibly attached to the park. I've been thinking of an indoor/outdoor water park attached to the hotel, accessible to hotel guests and as part of the park ticket. I've been thinking about a botanical gardens/greenhouse complex, a walk-through attraction aside from the park. Is that enough?

I don't think so. If it were, Six Flags Great America would be a destination. It's a fun amusement park with a low level of theming, with an attached water park included with park admission, and a ton of hotels around it. There is a large shopping complex/outlet mall called Gurnee Mills. And though I'm not aware of everything in the area, I am pretty sure there are a bunch of low level tourist-trap type things to do.

The Wisconsin Dells is a tourist destination, mostly due to their mix of huge water park hotels, their nature based outdoor activities (boat tours of the Dells and "Duck" tours of the area), a couple of smaller amusement parks, and plenty of tourist trap activities like miniature golf and go-carts and panning for "gemstones", not to mention a winery and an Indian casino nearby and the Tommy Bartlett Water Show and a ski "resort" (Christmas Mountain) all in the area. It's an area that gets plenty of traffic, albeit mostly from the surrounding midwest states, year around.

What is there to recommend my town as a destination other than my imaginary park and entertainment complex? Well, there is a nice minor league baseball stadium with a pretty bad independent Northern League baseball team playing there. There are two casinos, a Harrah's and the Empress casinos. There is a world class city within an hour of the area, and a lot of other attractions within 45 minutes. But not much right here.

Why would people choose to stay at my imagined hotel? Answer: They probably wouldn't. There just isn't enough to recommend the park or the area as a long term destination, long weekend or week-long trip. It's the part I really didn't think about enough.

More thought is needed on this subject. Thanks for reading, if you got this far...

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