Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hurricane City Council Wisely Rejects Our World Family's Proposed 2,000 Acre Monster Theme Park Complex In Southern Utah; Bill Boulter "Distraught"

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What would you expect from a town council of people that can’t even correctly pronounce the word Hurricane? And by the way aren’t they in these positions to create, modify and enforce ordinances? And doesn't bother anyone that they admittedly would have to bring in professionals to handle this?
Maybe they need some professionals there now that would understand the idea that one way to continue to develop and create jobs and increase city revenues in a down economy like the one we are in, is to approve projects like this when they fall in your lap.
As for the folks that fear the bad things that come with growth - so do I - but if this county wants to thrive you have to take a chance. I think the conservative regulations of the county and state and the fact that LDS values still carry a lot of weight in the area would keep most of that bad element at bay.
As for whether or not it could draw 6 million visitors a year - who cares - I think a big part of the 2.7 million that go and look at the rocks at Zion would visit the proposed site. I can't quite get my mind around the idea that 2.7 million people on average come to see Zion. It is pretty but there is only so much that regulations allow you to do there.
Besides that it is not all about the theme park, did anybody even read anything that was written about the school? This place would be like Tuacahn on steroids! And Tuacahn does very well with rate of students actually going into college and most on academic scholarships. Yet every year its "theme park" equivalent - the amphitheatre - has to just scrape by. But it does it because the discretionary income that is supposedly not here keeps coming in. This it because it is something the hardworking people of this area wants. I think the same would be true of this proposal, even if it did not do as well as projected the school would thrive. And for our youth that is what really matters!
Does anyone else see growing number of 15 - 20 year olds that are just hanging around during the summer because there aren’t enough legitimate activities or summer jobs to go around? Most of these good kids grow up knowing that if they want to succeed they have to plan on moving away from this area because high paying jobs are few and far between. What does that do to tax revenue?
And right now it’s only getting worse in our area; just ask anyone whose home is now worth half of what it was because of the national economy. Or better yet ask those that have been through foreclosure because there are no buyers and no jobs! And if there is not something done soon the criminal element will rise anyway because everyone is getting desperate.
I would like to see some disclosure on what those five council members would have to lose by allowing this to pass. If it is nothing then why do they fear it so much especially if the bond issue requires no tax to the county or city residents?
Wise decision – I disagree. Business as usual with a “good ol’ boy” network that will resist change until everything and everyone is gone – that’s more like it. There is an old saying that I am sure you Hurricane council members are familiar with “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. You just turned down 3 billion in growth at no real cost to you! There are only a few places in the world that kind of money is being spent - and none of them are in around Sothern Utah.
I too am distraught by this narrow view of what is good for this area. And I am not a rich person looking to make Southern Utah even better – I am just a sub-middle class worker bee that wants something good for his kids…
Please Mr. Boulter doesn’t go! I would petition for you or help however I can - as will a great number of us that those five town council members did not speak for.
Please Mr. Boulter - do not give up and make this a more public issue. I am sure that if more of us would have known you would have had a more favorable turnout. There is a huge contingent of us that want something like this – especially the school!