August 3, 2013

Consultants scout Sanford locations for an adventure theme park

The experts meet with residents, business owners and the governor as they focus on large parcels of land near the airport and the Wells town line.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SANFORD – Sanford residents who want to develop an adventure theme park got serious this week, bringing in top consultants in the field to help scout possible locations and gauge the feasibility of their dream.

The park's would-be developers haven't picked a site yet but are focusing on larger parcels in south Sanford, near the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport and the Wells town line, where they hope to capitalize on the area's proximity to the coast and Interstate 95.

The California-based consulting team includes Fred Cochran, a theme-park economist, and Larry Wyatt, a theme-park designer. Together, their client lists include the Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount Parks and Six Flags Entertainment.

Tuesday through Thursday, the consultants toured Sanford and the surrounding area by car and by helicopter, held brainstorming sessions with residents and business owners, and met with municipal and state officials, including Gov. Paul LePage.

"The consultants thought Sanford would be an ideal location," said Bill Underwood, a retired tourism and travel executive who's leading the development effort with Allen Mapes, a semiretired fuel company owner.

Underwood and Mapes, who live in the Springvale section of Sanford, have established York Pines, a nonprofit group, to explore the possibility of developing a park. They raised $35,000 to hire the consultants. The city kicked in $5,000.

Underwood said the consultants were excited by what they saw and shared a variety of ideas from other projects they have worked on and attractions they have seen in England, Australia and across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The consultants are expected to deliver a feasibility report within two months, Underwood said, including an analysis of the economic landscape in Sanford, recommendations for successful park models and development cost estimates.

The group is focusing on larger parcels near the airport and the Wells town line, including about 1,100 acres that were targeted for heavy industrial development in the 1970s, Mapes said.

In 1974, the Gibbs Oil Co. of Massachusetts wanted to build a refinery that would have been connected by pipeline to Portland Harbor, according to a United Press International story from the era. The refinery was never built.

LePage met with the development group and the consultants Wednesday, Mapes said. He arrived a half-hour early for a breakfast meeting and helped the Sanford group woo the consultants.

"He was very encouraging and offered to help in any way he could," Mapes said.

Sanford residents and others have begun to embrace the idea of having an adventure theme park in town, Mapes said, one that would feature unique, natural, Maine-based amusements with year-round activities and entertainment.

The consultants told Underwood and Mapes that they wouldn't have come to Maine if they didn't think the idea had potential.

"And these guys are big time," Mapes said. "They're not a couple of plumbers from Waterboro."

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: kbouchard@pressherald.com

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