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Theme world U.S.A.

Americans love amusement parks. New ones are coming, from Wayne's World in the Florida Everglades to Trump Park in Connecticut. Just how much of the natural world should we trade for fantasylands?

The story of theme parks and the environment may best be told at EPCOT Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. In the early 80s, the construction crews hit the swamps--clearcutting pine trees and palmettos, removing alligators and rattlesnakes, landfilling sinkholes and digging a 100-acre lake--to build the Future World pavillions that now draw millions of visitors a year. All of the exhibits at EPCOT share a theme, notes Judith Adams in her book, The American Amusement Park Industry: The Triumph of Technology. "There is no pollution or acid rain in the 'The Universe of Energy,'" she finds, "no famines, dust storms, droughts, or even natural dirt in 'The Land'; no gridlock, smog or highway carnage in the 'World of Motion.'" Greenpeace will have to build its own theme park to remind us of the lost alligators and wetlands that did not belong in Disney's idyllic Future World.

E Magazine examines three new theme parks in the works, all very different and yet all revealing our desire for fantasy entertainment rather than the natural environment. In Opryland in Nashville, you can walk indoor wilderness trails modeled after those right outside. "We can have nature on our own terms," says Maria-Lydia Spinelli, an anthropologist from DePaul University. "We can direct what we want it to be like."

The United States has upwards of 300 amusement parks, raking in $4 billion a year from 90 million visitors. The fantasyland entertainment now extends to the country's 1,800 malls, following the example of the Mall of America outside Minneapolis, which features an indoor "park" with roller coaster, ferris wheel, tropical jasmine and orange trees, Buddhist pines and black olives that don't quite match the press kit's promise of "the awesome splendor of the Minnesota woods."

Michael Jacobson of the Center for the Study of Commercialism regrets that these "family entertainment centers" have replaced our trips to state parks for swimming, picnicking, playing ball or just watching the grass grow. Even the sandbox has been replaced by the pay-to-play Discovery Zone, which Leah Brumer, a writer from Oakland, California, describes as a walk through "a Saturday morning television show." But real discovery happens when kids play in the real world. "When children get dirty, build sand castles and create their own games, they're learning to negotiate, to be flexible and to master their surroundings," she notes in the East Bay Express. "What do they learn in the human gerbil cage" of the Discovery Zone?

"To hold onto their glasses."

Four of the five largest theme park owners are media conglomerates like Disney that use every chance to sell, sell, sell. "You can see the movie, The Lion King, as as ad for The Lion King parade at Disney World, which becomes an ad for Lion King gift wrapping paper," says Susan Davis, who teaches at the University of California in San Diego. Theme parks have become one more spin-off of popular movies and TV shows, a theater set to match the T-shirts and soundtrack CDs.

But before we conclude that theme parks are unstoppable juggernauts, give a thought to Disney's America, a $650 million, 100-acre history-themed park proposed for Haymarket, Virginia (pop. 500). The tiny town is 35 miles west of Washington, D.C. and a stone's throw from the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Disney thought it could attract a million visitors a year when it opens in 1998.

But Virginia (which stood to gain 19,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in taxes over 30 years) flew its flags at half mast September 29 after Disney announced it was cancelling the plan in the face of withering public opposition.

Political cartoonists had had a field day, drawing mouse ears on dead presidents and showing Mickey at Bull Run. Historians attacked Disney's America for its plastic, prettified view of history. Opponents organized and held demonstrations--anathema to the family-oriented-and-squeaky-clean Disney. While Disney's own internal discord may have played a part, here was a clear sign that a well-organized and outraged citizenry could stop big development plans.

Unfortunately, most communities can't resist the mix of tax dollars and new jobs: A Manassas-like retreat is all too rare. Soon we'll need signs at theme park exits reading, "This Way to the Real World. Watch Out for Unscheduled Events."

WAYNE'S WORLD

WAYNE HUIZENGA'S PROPOSED "BLOCKBUSTER" IS A GIANT, ENVIRONMENTALLY DANGEROUS THEME PARK ON THE EDGE OF THE EVERGLADES

He started out humbly enough--as a garbage man. His Waste Management Inc. grew into one of the nation's largest waste-hauling empires and fostered a nice-guy image with green ad slogans on TV and sponsorship of National Public Radio, despite its dump load of environmental fines. H. Wayne Huizenga, garbage man, became H. Wayne Huizenga, rich man. But the balding fellow with the round, smiling face wasn't really famous. Not until the blue signs of his Blockbuster Video stores dotted street corners everywhere and he nearly cornered the ownership of Florida's pro sports teams: Florida Marlins (baseball), Florida Panthers (hockey), and (as part-owner) the Dolphins (football).

What Wayne wants, Wayne gets, believes the talk-radio crowd in southern Florida. Little wonder that when a Fort Lauderdale reporter did a tongue-in-cheek newspaper guide for new residents, he said there is no God, no Buddha: "We have what we call a Huizenga...Just be thankful and chant, 'Huizenga, Huizenga, Huizenga.'"

What Wayne wants now is a theme park on the edge of the Everglades. Florida already has the world's No. 1 vacation spot--Walt Disney World, a 43-square-mile wonder near Orlando, a place people try to visit once before they die. Mention the United States to a foreigner, and the image of a cartoonish rodent comes to mind. Not surprisingly, then, the name "Orlando" is recognized by more people worldwide than "Florida," according to the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida. Six of the nation's top 10 amusement parks are in Florida. But none are in southern Florida, and Wayne wants to change that.

At presstime, the future of Blockbuster Park was in question because of a merger between Huizenga's Blockbuster and Viacom, which owns five theme parks of its own. Viacom, reports The Miami Herald, "might not share Huizenga's enthusiasm for a South Florida sports park."

Huizenga himself is not making a long-term commitment to the merged Viacom/Blockbuster entity.

But nobody's pulled the plug, and "Wayne's World" rolls on. The king of video rentals hopes to build not just a theme park, but an entertainment fantasyland on the county line between his home community of Greater Fort Lauderdale and Greater Miami. Picture a 50,000-seat baseball stadium with a retractable roof...a 20,000-seat hockey and concert arena...a 25-acre water-sports playground...shops...restaurants...vacation timeshares...Dad would play 18 holes of golf while Mom shopped, Sonny played video games and Sissy slid on waterslides at this 2,300-acre entertainment mecca. Then they would meet for dinner and a movie or a Marlins game--all in one convenient place.

But it isn't so convenient for environmentalists.

HOGGING THE TROUGH

The trouble is water. "That's the main problem," says Charles Lee, an Audubon Society lobbyist. Blockbuster Park would sit in a proposed buffer zone designed to protect the struggling Everglades a few miles west. It would also sit smack dab on top of the last promising potential drinking water wellfield in northern Dade County, the home of Miami. Just a few years ago, the county acted like a piglet squeezing its brothers away from the trough by placing dibs on extra future shares of finite, tri-county water supplies. Lee envisions a day when water bills will resemble electricity bills at $100 to $300 a month. Putting a theme park where Wayne wants it could slam shut the prospect of a future northwestern Dade wellfield.

Wayne's World will also sit on what was once one of the deepest portions of the Everglades. The area remains wet long into the dry season, to the delight of thirsty birds. Even though this land was drained for pastures by the 70s, it still attracts wading birds--including the gawky, endangered woodstork--from the Everglades park three miles to the west. Environmentalists believe that leaving this land undeveloped would continue to provide much-needed wildlife habitat. Government paperwork filed in the 70s by the original developers of the property admitted that many animals lived there: bobcats, raccoons, alligators, turtles, six kinds of snakes, eight kinds of butterflies, two kinds of rabbits, six kinds of year-round birds, including redtail hawks, and 11 bird species that stop by on their long migrations.

But most south Floridians don't think of Wayne's site as part of the famous Everglades--after all, a housing subdivision already had been OK'd for years for part of the Blockbuster land. So the struggling environmentalists have resorted to another argument: tackiness. They fear that Wayne's World will spur a rash of new building at the edge of the already-battered Everglades.

Rows OF TICKY-TACK

A drive down bargain-hunters' Irlo Bronson Highway in Kissimmee, outside tasteful Disney World, is a nightmare, a must to avoid. A stream of signs flashes in giant white lights: "Florida T-shirts 5/$9.99." "All rooms $29. VACANCY." "Discount liquors." "Shuffleboard. Kids Eat Free." Much more than just Disney World, there's Reptile World, Christmas World, Bargain World, Alligatorland. When southern Floridians afraid of this garish maw speak out at public meetings, they spit out the name as if it were an epithet: "What about KISS-i-mmee?" Everglades fans cringe at the prospect of fleamarket signs jutting up against the river of grass.

But Wayne's World means jobs, jobs, jobs, officials say. That's their mantra. But in a region where an average new home costs more than $100,000, only about 1,000 of the 16,500 jobs would pay "big bucks"--$37,862 on average and a good half of the new jobs would pay between $11,529 and $17,001 to work at food stands or in the hotels. "It's not Silicon Valley," admits analyst Andrew Dolkart of the Kenneth Leventhal & Company in Miami. "The question comes down to: Are some jobs better than no jobs? I guess that comes down to whether you're the one looking for a job."

Yes, Floridians do love their Everglades. Seventy-nine percent of 504 Florida voters polled in September, 1993 said that they would approve a penny-a-pound tax on sugar to help fix the Everglades, an idea later squashed by the courts. But the sprouting of new homes and businesses-- not eco-trips-- still drives the state's economic engine.

Wayne's new park appeared in a Florida travel guide as early as 1997, with the first rollercoaster ride sometime later. Blockbuster Park promises to generate $1.07 billion in gross annual revenues by 2005, and despite a lack of crucial details, public officials seem to be banking on it. The park could quell the giant sucking sound of tourists jumping into rental cars for a four-hour trek to Mickey Mouseland.

Heck, Wayne knows what he's doing. He routinely makes the state's top 10 list of political contributors, giving $76,510 to the Republicans in three recent years, reports the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. He makes big bucks and gives handsomely to local charities. The family name graces the Salvation Army administration building in town. Now, with credentials like that, Wayne wouldn't do anything to hurt the public good, would he?

Contact: Friends of the Everglades, 101 Westward Drive, Miami Springs, FL 33166/(305)888-1230.

FANTASIA IN BRIDGEPORT

A POOR CONNECTICUT CITY MAY HAVE A THEME PARK FUTURE

In Bridgeport did Kubla Trump a stately pleasure dome decree. Yes, developer Donald Trump, the paragon of glitz and glitter, wants to build a $350 million, 100-acre theme park in gritty Bridgeport, Connecticut, home of attempted municipal bankruptcy, scary housing projects and fleeing industry.

According to city Project Manager Scott Maus, Trump, who promises 3,000 permanent jobs, is contemplating either a year-round park based around a New England fishing village theme, or a seasonal carnival with the world's tallest roller-coaster and other amusements. Some observers think the Trump plan is actually a Trojan horse for a projected casino, approval of which has so far been denied by the Connecticut legislature.

Some 50 acres of the park site is the former home of Carpenter Technologies, a once-roaring steel plant now reduced to a flat plain of broken concrete. Ed Oppel, director of the mayor's task force on Trump Park, says the CarTech soil is impregnated with 900,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil. "But it's not that big a problem," he said. "Oil is a valuable commodity and the new owner could extract it and sell it. And Trump just wants to use that property for a parking lot, anyway."

But Michael Stern, a staff attorney at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE), notes that this kind of industrial pollution has held up development at many factory sites in the Northeast. "You'd never be allowed today to do the kind of wholesale dumping they did 50 years ago," he said. "A lot of people are wary of moving ahead at these locations because of the potential environmental costs." Officials of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) say it's too early to judge Trump Park because a detailed site plan hasn't been submitted.

Another environmental obstacle is the presence on the site's Pleasure Beach, a former amusement park now largely left wild, of a nesting pair of piping plovers. Connecticut has only 24 pairs of these migrating shore birds, which have been listed as federally threatened since 1986. David Gumbart, preserve steward for the Nature Conservancy, says that the pair of plovers should receive "due consideration," but he adds that as only four percent of the state's population, they probably won't doom any development projects.

VEGAS IN CONNECTICUT

As enticing as Trump's plan is, the best odds are on an entirely different scenario: after gambling is approved in Connecticut next year, Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn builds a full-bore casino in Bridgeport.

The smart money has gone back and forth, but Wynn showed a pretty good hand recently when he revealed that--in partnership with lawyer/jai alai operator Robert Zeff--he had a contract to buy CarTech, the essential wild card in this high-stakes game.

Beating Donald Trump is probably part of the fun for Steve Wynn, who calls Trump "a lightweight phony" and tangled with him in 1987 in a fight for control of the Vegas casino Golden Nugget.

Wynn, whose plans call for a combined casino, dog track and pleasure palace, has demonstrated remarkable staying power in Connecticut. While rival Harrah's was folding its tents, Wynn was opening a Connecticut office, despite the unbending efforts of former Governor Lowell Weicker to keep the casinos on the reservation. (Ledyard's Foxwoods Casino, run by the Mashantucket Pequots, is one of the biggest in the world.)

But, anyway the bloom may be off the Mashantucket Pequots and their huge, expanding casino. Although the Pequots pour $160 million a year into state coffers, they came under fire on 60 Minutes recently for refusing to discuss their Malaysian funding sources. Further, Republicans blanched at the news that the Pequots had contributed $100,000 to the New York Democratic State Committee, quite likely a payment aimed at tamping down enthusiasm for casinos in the Empire State.

So if, as it appears, Connecticut is placing its bets on Steve Wynn and Robert Zeff, it should at least get to know them. Wynn, who rules from Las Vegas, sits on top of a $1.7 billion gambling empire (partly built on junk bonds provided by Michael Milken) and takes home a reported $34 million a year. Unlike the sleazy, "connected" gaming bosses of old who looked uncomfortable in daylight, he's trying to turn casino gambling into family fun time, complete with dolphin pools and white tiger acts. "A bold blend of Spielberg and Barnum," said People.

Wynn, who struggles with partial blindness, has escaped the mob taint though his early investment in The Frontier Hotel failed after a federal investigation of wise guy influence there.

The flamboyant Robert Zeff, who looks a little like George Hamilton and owns a house near Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas on Long Island Sound, is a onetime highly paid Detroit trial lawyer who won big payoffs for clients that included auto heiresses Cristina Ford ($10 milllion) and Barbara Ford ($5.5 million).

Zeff is full of contradictions, though: he also tried to help a client, Delaware-based Lindaco Inc., to dump nearly four million tons of hazardous waste in the poor African country of Guinea-Bissau. Environmentalists howled, and the deal fell through. But Zeff proved himself a winner in Bridgeport when, after hiring a raft of well-connected lobbyists, he received permission to turn the money-losing Bridgeport Jai Alai into a potentially profitable greyhound track. Now it looks like the track will be just one element of Wynn's giant temple of chance, and Zeff will have a piece of the action.

The current residents of Bridgeport's desperately poor East Side could be forgiven for wondering why everyone's fighting over their real estate. But once the high-rollers come in, the answer will be clear enough.

FUN WITH FALL-OUT

A SHUTTERED NUCLEAR PLANT COULD BECOME A THEME PARK

Roller coasters bring out the kid in everyone, especially the indoor "space mountain" style coasters. You're an astronaut, let's say, throttling your rocket into warp speed to exit the solar system. You brake ever so briefly to catch the enduring Shoemaker-Levy comet damage on Jupiter, and then as you accelerate to light speed, you must suddenly swerve and dive to avoid a disastrous collision with a small object. You see it careening past, a piece of vintage satellite. Space junk.

If Canda Carteen can make her dream come true, this Greenpeace-meets-Disney ride will be one of many Eco-Park attractions. It will be housed inside a 75 percent-completed nuclear power silo in central Washington, one never poisoned by the presence of Uranium 235. Her Phan-Phaire (pronounced "fanfare") organization is negotiating with the plant owner, the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS, also known as "Whoops"). The utility faces the unsavory dilemma of dealing with a project it finds too expensive to finish, mothball or close. Mothballing alone costs $10.5 million annually. So WPPSS is seriously entertaining suggestions like Carteen's.

"It'd be a nature park that happens to have rides," she says. But it would focus on "edu-tainment." One proposed attraction, "Ghost Ride," would take people through the death and dying of a Northwest forest "from an Indian point of view."

There would be no gasoline-powered vehicles in the park, which would also have a fishing lodge. The 1,600-acre property sits alongside two rivers known for their small-mouth bass, salmon and steelhead.

For funding, Carteen and her business partner and husband George Blakeslee are approaching local companies, including Weyerhauser and Tektronix, that want to promote their environmental good deeds.

Carteen's proposed park is vastly superior to the alternative. WPPSS is also considering selling its reactors to the Isaiah Project, a collaboration of businesses including Batelle N.W. Taking its name from the "swords into plowshares" adage, Isaiah wants to use the unfinished reactors to burn the nation's oversupply of plutonium. After all, Washington state is the home of the notorious Hanford weapons-grade plutonium plant, which helped create the plutonium problem in the first place.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Earth Action Network, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:theme parks
Author:Betts, Kellyn S.
Publication:E
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Words:3254
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