January 22

Sanford theme park makes sense, experts say

Consultants call Sanford ‘uniquely located’ for a successful, tourist-attractions development.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A team of nationally known consultants whose client list includes Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Six Flags Entertainment have concluded that the concept of building a four-season, tourist-destination theme park and resort in Sanford has “real merit.”

click image to enlarge

This October 2012 file photo shows Washington Street in Sanford. A team of nationally known consultants whose client list includes Walt Disney World and Six Flags say that the concept of building a four-season theme park and resort in Sanford has “real merit.”

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

York Pines Inc., a nonprofit organization formed last year by a group of local businessmen, issued a press release Tuesday that said its consulting team believes that Sanford could successfully host a theme park and resort complex. Such a facility might also include an indoor water park along with indoor and outdoor adventure venues.

The California-based consulting team of Fred Cochrane, a theme park economist, and Larry Wyatt, a theme park designer, along with Norm Elder, a specialist in corporate sponsorship, recommend that York Pines reach out to theme park developers to see if there is interest in building a theme park in Sanford.

“I was pleasantly surprised to find this region to be one of the largest unserved tourism markets in the country,” Cochrane said in a statement. “The southern Maine proposal has revealed to me that it has been an overlooked area for significant tourist-attractions development. Sanford is uniquely located, appears to have excellent sites, and is motivated to achieve a successful attractions development project.”

In August, York Pines brought in the consultants to scout possible locations. They toured Sanford by car and by helicopter. The group then raised $36,000 to have the consultants conduct a feasibility study, which was recently completed.

Bill Underwood, a spokesman for York Pines, said the consultants identified a large tract of forested land near the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport and the Wells town line as a potential site. The woodlands area near the airport has development sites ranging in size from 100 and 350 acres to as large as 1,100 acres.

“The fact that Sanford has large, undeveloped sites just 10 minutes from the Maine Turnpike is something the consultants thought was very valuable,” Underwood said, referring to Route 109, which provides direct access from Sanford to the Wells exit of the Maine Turnpike. Underwood said the consultants are excited about the possibility of tapping into the state’s tourism market. Sanford is also located near Route 16 in New Hampshire. Route 16 runs from north to south along New Hampshire’s border with Maine.

“The state has 28 million visitors a year,” Underwood said. “We don’t have Vacationland on our license plates by accident. We feel that we can build on an already strong, thriving industry.”

Underwood said the Sanford theme park would not be in competition with attractions such as York’s Wild Kingdom in York Beach or Funtown in Saco. He said the consultants envision a park that would be “new and unique for the people of New England.”

Although the concept of the park is far from being fully developed, Underwood said it could be branded as Maine camp adventure, featuring an upscale campground, outdoor adventures and possibly an indoor water park. The state does not have a large-scale indoor water park.

He said it is far too early to say how many jobs could be created by the park and what the impact might be on the local economy.

But Sanford’s first elected mayor, Tom Cote, who has no affiliation with York Pines, said he believes that a theme park, even though it might sound far-fetched to outsiders, could be well suited for Sanford.

Cote, who has an extensive background in creating marketing and business development strategies and has traveled across the country, said big cities don’t always have such attractions.

“Sanford is as good a place as any to host a sizable attraction,” Cote said. “It’s an interesting concept because of Sanford’s proximity to the highway and to the tourists. You come to the realization that there is a bit of a captive audience here.”

Cote said a theme park and resort has the potential to create hundreds of jobs, and that, he added, is a “worthy pursuit.”

“This park could be an opportunity,” Cote said. “When you’re hunting, it’s good to shoot for the elephant once in a while.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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