The St. George Spectrum, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KCSG (with video) report that on Thursday June 18th, 2009, Hurricane City Council members unanimously rejected a bid by Our World Family, LLC to build a Southern Utah theme park and educational resort that would have dwarfed the scale of Disneyland. Mayor Tom Hirschi accepted a motion to reject the proposal from Pam Humphries and a second from Dean McNeill after allowing the five councilmembers to express their thought process during the past six months of review.
McNeill said the city has already expended a significant amount of time just in reviewing the pros and cons of the resort application, the tip of the iceberg as far as what taxpayers would be paying if the project were approved. "We would have to staff up and bring in professional help from the outside ... consultants," he said. "We'll either have to modify ordinances, grant waivers - which I don't favor - or create new ordinances."
The 2,000-acre resort, to be built at 3000 South and 1600 West overlooking Sand Hollow Reservoir at a cost of $3 billion, would have included a private university, a major hotel, an indoor ski resort, an amusement park and other related facilities. Disneyland, in comparison, occupies less than 100 acres. Undoubtedly the sheer number of people who would need to be brought in to run such an operation is a major concern, since Hurricane itself has a population of only 12,896 as of July 2007. Perhaps the townspeople feared demographic overload. Their fears are not groundless, since according to the Mainstreet Business Journal, Our World Family anticipated bringing in 3,000 workers to staff the complex. Imagine the impact of suddenly dumping 3,000 people into a community of less than 13,000, although St. George is just a few miles southwest of the city. Another concern might be water usage - the area has an arid climate.
All of the council members expressed doubts about whether the resort park would really be able to draw in the projected 6 million visitors annually when Zion National Park currently attracts about 2.7 million and amusement parks around the country are reporting low revenue.
Our World Family President Bill Boulter, a St. George resident, said the local community misunderstood key aspects of the project, including the manner in which it would have been funded, its expected visitor draw and possibilities for solvency. "Obviously we're very distraught. ... We're still 100 percent convinced it's a great opportunity for the children of this community," he said. "The biggest issue we're running into is misinformation."
Boulter further explained that the resort plan called for funding from private investors and that the money is already all committed in a holding company called Matrix, LLC, and would be managed through the issuance of a "conduit bond" differing from non-taxable bonds in that it doesn't have a cap on the amount the bond can fund. As a result, taxes would not pay one penny.
Boulter said the developers would review their options to decide whether they will continue to pursue the project in another location. Boulter reported that other cities have been supposedly "begging" Our World Family to go with them, but he declined to name them.
The Spectrum weighed in editorially before the vote and was not exactly wildly optimistic. They didn't oppose it, but they counseled prudence and caution. The Spectrum is also running a poll about the proposed park on their home page, and it indicates some significant support. Out of 108 votes cast as of this post, 47.2 percent oppose it, but a surprising 37.0 percent support it. The remainder either don't know or don't care. Many people apparently believe the projected visitor total of six million to the park to be excessively optimistic, and that alone may have been the dealbreaker.
It's too bad the project was rejected; the company seems reputable. But it was simply the wrong size for the wrong place, and the visitor projections not only seemed unrealistically high, but also out of sync with expected trends for the amusement park industry in the short term. I'm surprised that Mr. Boulter, as a local area resident, didn't anticipate these objections. Amusement parks are for those who have discretionary income; the economic meltdown has cost many people their jobs and the discretionary income they would normally have.
A wise decision by the Hurricane City Council.