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bobliocatt

Disney, Brunswick style

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Here's some news on a proposed theme park near Brunswick, GA, that my firm is working on:

Disney, Brunswick style

For millions of motorists that stream along Interstate 95 every year, there are stretches in Georgia where the only scenery is pines and palmettos.

By the summer of 2006, developers said Wednesday, there will be a $150 million theme park on 800 acres north of Brunswick that will prompt many to pull off the exit and stay a while.

William G. Pitts, president of WG Pitts Co. of Jacksonville, and officials from Powers Design of Ponte Vedra Beach announced their plans, including rides, shows and displays of coastal Georgia's history and culture.

Steamboat City is planned at Exit 42, about midway between Savannah and Jacksonville and is designed have a variety of family attractions from the relaxed (a petting zoo, horse-drawn trolley and railroad) to the thrilling (a haunted plantation and roller coaster), the developers said.

Investors have pledged enough money to build the project, Pitts said, but Steamboat City must sign a final contract with Suitt Construction of Greenville, S.C., and secure an independent appraisal of the site and the project.

He said he hopes work on the park will begin this summer.

Pitts said he and his partners also plan to sell stock in Steamboat City to raise more money.

Glynn County officials said the appropriate zoning for the project is in place, but the developers must still submit final site plans.

Pitts, general partner and lead principal in Steamboat City, said the park will be unique but "it's not something that hasn't been tried.''

He cited Dollywood in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., as two theme parks that have become destination attractions.

Admission prices have not been determined.

In studying the feasibility of Steamboat City during the past six months, developers contracted with LEDO International Inc. of Newport Beach, Calif., to examine the location, Pitts said. LEDO stands for Leisure Entertainment Development & Operations.

LEDO, which plans and develops leisure and entertainment projects, found the Glynn County site to be a great location with a strong market that includes 38 million people passing each year on I-95, Pitts said.

"We're about 3 1/2 hours from the Mouse,'' Pitts said of Kissimmee's Disney World. "We feel we're in the right place and the right distance we need to be from the Orlando area." Pitts said Steamboat City's original concept was to conduct tours through exhibits of free-roaming animals on both sides of the interstate, but that idea was dropped.

Much of the work in replacing the animals has fallen to Thomas Reidenbach, director of art and theme development for Powers Design.

Reidenbach said he is designing attractions that will help children see things for the first time but give older visitors a delightful reminder of their upbringing.

"The Golden Isles area is just loaded with history,'' he said.

As he spoke, Powers Design President John Powers held up Reidenbach's work, which included drawings of an opera house, steamboat, lighthouse, wooden water tank and windmill.

The Steamboat City theme came from the Altamaha Canal, a 20-mile waterway dug before the Civil War to connect the Port of Brunswick with the Altamaha River to the north. The canal was abandoned in the 1880s.

The packet steamers that used the canal provided a theme that will start at the entrance, Reidenbach said. A steamship with a moving stern wheel and billowing steam will sit in a lock on the canal and serve as the entry point into a riverboat city from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

There is some dispute as to whether the riverboat theme is faithful to local history. Some historians say the closest a steamboat came was across the county line in Darien, but that's less than 10 miles away.

A train station at the end of the street will catch the eye and draw visitors past ice cream, crystalware and other retail shops. A right turn takes visitors into a county fair midway with a roller coaster, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel and a petting zoo. A left turn leads to the scary attractions necessary to theme parks.

Blackbeard's Lost Treasure will start with a wrecked pirate ship with billowing sails and a deck hand warning visitors not to enter, a ploy used at Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and other attractions like it, Reidenbach said.

And like those "dark ride'' attractions, scary things will appear in the smoke and mist, he said.

Blackbeard is thought to have landed on the barrier islands along Georgia's coast, and one island off McIntosh County is named for him. Local ghost stories will come into play with the Haunted Plantation, a three-story mansion that will cost $9 million to $12 million to build, Powers said.

"We hope to get it down a bit,'' he said of the cost.

The park is ringed by a railroad on which a steam engine will pull a train that will provide transportation and entertainment passing through natural stands of oak and cypress and past a moonshine still, raccoons, bears, deer and mountain lions.

The animals will pose no threat because they're all mechanical characters.

Pitts stressed that Steamboat City will not be "a ride park'' like Wild Adventures near Valdosta.

But it has been a long ride for the people of Brunswick, as excitement over Fowler's original concept rose and fell somewhat like a roller coaster.

"If it comes about, I think it's going to be great,'' said banker Mel Baxter, chairman of the board of directors of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.

Baxter has seen the developers' presentation and thinks it should work.

"If Valdosta can do it, you would think we could do it. We've really got more to offer,'' he said referring to the beaches, golf courses, restaurants and shops in Brunswick, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.

Bill Tipton, director of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he believes Steamboat City will succeed.

Tipton said he has been encouraged during meetings because he thinks Steamboat City's designers listen.

"They sit down and start sketching," he said. "They get it."

Among the investors is Albert Shelander, a St. Simons Island real estate broker who worked the original deal for the tract.

"It's just a bunch of us small fries doing it. It's just a bunch of local investors trying to do good things for Glynn County,'' he said.

Although the park site is a few miles beyond Brunswick's city limits, Mayor Brad Brown said it will be good for the city.

"It gives us an additional draw and additional job opportunities,'' he said.

The project is expected to create 1,700 construction jobs and, once completed, 1,500 permanent jobs at the park, Pitts said.

WG Pitts has been the development and construction manager on various projects in Florida, including the St. Johns Golf and Country Club, Fleming Island Plantation and Waterchase, an exclusive gated community in Tampa.

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Steamboat City's train depot and bear exhibit are shown in this drawing. While early plans called for live animals, mechanical characters will instead be used. Provided by WG Pitts Co.

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Steamboat City, a theme park planned at Exit 42 north of Brunswick, could open by the summer of 2006. The park would include rides, including a roller coaster, shows and displays of coastal Georgia's history and culture. Provided by WG Pitts Co.

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Normally I would be opposed to bringing in a junky themepark on such a beautiful drive. But after looking at the pictures and how close it is to Jacksonville, I think that it will provide some nice attractions on the drive.

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Brunswick needs the growth.

Seeing as the last post on this was back in 2004, whatever became of this?

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^Financing issues and a change in demographics, making the land worth a pretty penny, even if the park doesn't come. I'm sure the recent BRAC decision to relocate nearly 4 thousand jobs to Kings Bay only makes the land more valuable.

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