SANFORD — Possibilities include an adventure center, an indoor water park, a high-end camping resort ”“ perhaps with tree-house accommodations ”“ and a series of walking and hiking trails. A theme park could include canoeing and kayaking down the river, an amphitheater, a “village center,” and more, all with a distinct Maine theme.

It could become “the way fun should be,” to coin one possible slogan, for families looking for fun and relaxation.

The prospect of a year-round theme park in Sanford to draw families from all over New England ”“ and provide employment and an economic boost to the city ”“ is continuing to be explored. After more than two full days of brainstorming sessions with two nationally recognized consultants in the field, proponents Thursday said they’re encouraged.

“Everyone had a very positive attitude that there is potential to develop a tourist attraction,” said Bill Underwood, a retiree who moved to Sanford to be closer to family and got involved with Sanford Downtown Legacy’s economic restructuring committee.

He and local businessman H. Allen Mapes are the faces of the theme park effort that includes about half a dozen others. They’ve formed a corporation, called York Pines, Inc. to investigate the possibilities and succeeded in raising $35,000 for a feasibility study by entertainment industry professionals Fred Cochrane and Larry Wyatt, the two who came to Sanford earlier this week. They will issue a report, expected in a couple of months, outlining recommendations.

The sessions, which began with road and helicopter tours of Sanford and the surrounding area Tuesday also saw participation by Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Office of Tourism. The City of Sanford, which contributed $5,000 toward the study, was an active participant.

LePage was due to arrive at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Mapes said the governor arrived at 8:30 a.m., ahead of his staff, ready to listen and take part.

“He’s enthusiastic and was pleased to be able to attend,” said Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary on Thursday. “He’s interested in exploring the options.”

Bennett said the governor welcomes all efforts that help promote the state and brings families here.

The targeted location would be in south Sanford, where there are several parcels of land that Mapes believes may be available, ranging in size from 100 acres to 1,100 acres ”“ the latter the site of an oil refinery proposed in the 1970s by Gibbs Oil Company. That never came to fruition, Mapes pointed out, suggesting the land might be available.

Underwood, who worked in the tourism and transportation fields before his retirement, pointed out that Sanford is ideally situated to draw families from a wide radius.

With a rehabbed Route 109, south Sanford is about 10 minutes from the I-95 exit on the Wells/Sanford line and just a hop, skip and a jump from routes 16 and 202 and the folks who motor to New Hampshire. As well, Maine had 28 million tourists in 2012, most of whom arrived by I-95. New Hampshire had 34 million, Underwood noted.

Cochrane’s resume includes an early and long affiliation with Disney and in golf, ski and water-oriented resorts in North America. Wyatt has been involved with projects that include Six Flags, Lego Parks, Daytona Speedway and more. A third consultant, Norm Elder, works with Cochrane and is considered an expert in scouting out developers and corporate sponsors.

Mapes said Cochrane and Wyatt had done their homework before they arrived, and told him if they didn’t think there was potential for a theme park in Sanford, they wouldn’t have made the trip.

The brainstorming sessions explored several options ”“ and a park could include some or all of them, depending on who might take on the development and corporate sponsorship, Underwood said. Both he and Mapes stressed York Pines Inc. is looking for a unique leisure attraction that won’t compete with existing attractions like the summer water parks in Saco, attractions in Old Orchard Beach or Wild Kingdom in York.

“We want something innovative, creative, original, natural, with a Maine brand ”“ and feasible,” said Underwood.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected].



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