24 SUNDAYnMAY 4. 1997 OZ THEME PARK THE SALINA JOURNAL Follow the Yellow Brick Road Salina state senator plays wizard to Oz theme park eyed in northeast Kansas By SHARON MONTAGUE The Salina Journal I he proposed Wonderful World of •Oz theme park will be constructed nearly 200 miles from Salina, in northeast Kansas. But with more than 2.5 million visitors expected to travel to the park in its first year, Sen. Ben Vidricksen said Salina and other Kansas cities will reap their share of benefits. "It will make Kansas a tourism destination instead of a pass-through state," said Vidricksen, R-Salina, a prime promoter of the project for the past six years. "The motels in Salina will fill up, people moving through here will stop at our restaurants, and they'll visit tourist spots here." Opening planned for 2000 Ground is slated to be broken this fall on the theme park hi Bonner Springs in northeast Kansas, Vidricksen said. The opening is set for May 2000. The first phase of the project, expected to cost $465 million, would include a 55- acre theme park, a 600-room hotel, an 18- hole championship golf course, a convention center and a 600-stall park for recreational vehicles. Courtesy of OZ Resorts & Entertainment Inc. The Emerald City will be the centerpiece of the Wonderful World of Oz theme park proposed for development in northeast Kansas. The second phase, slated for completion by 2005, would include movie the- aters, an old western city, several music theaters similar to those seen in Branson, Mo., a hotel complex and a second 18- hole golf course. The theme park would feature rides and attractions based on the 1939 MGM movie classic, "The Wizard of Oz." Plans call for: • An Old Kansas area featuring Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's Farm and Professor Marvel's World Renowned Roadshow Carnival. • Munchkinland, with tiny homes, shops and restaurants and the start of the Yellow Brick Road. • Yellow Brick Country, where visitors will meet the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. • The Northern Kingdom, where Glinda the Good Witch rules. • The Emerald City, where visitors meet the Wizard. Vidricksen said the theme park is expected to attract 2.5 million visitors in its first year, 4 million its second year and 5 million its third year. A regional draw Developers expect people to visit from •as far away as northern Texas, eastern Colorado, Minnesota and Kentucky. "There are 65 million people living in areas within a good day's drive," Vidricksen said. "We expect to draw from that area." Vidricksen said the park would be of Disneyland quality. It's being designed by people who once worked for Disney. Once the park is up and running, Vidricksen said he expects its effects to be felt throughout the state, with spinoff jobs created to support tourism and with increased tax revenues being paid to the state. As people travel to Kansas City from other areas, Vidricksen said, they'll plan side trips, visiting the Flywheels Museum in Salina, Charlie Walker's Rolling Hills Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center west of Salina, the Eisenhower Center in Abilene and the Sternberg Museum in Hays. "They'll be looking at other places to stop as they pass through the state," Vidricksen said. "Like when they go to Disneyland, they go to Sea World." Vidricksen expects many families to travel to eastern Kansas to visit the theme park, Developers estimated that a family of four could visit for $875, including hotel, meals and travel expenses. That compares to the average $2,300 spent for a trip to Disneyland. "It's economical for a family vacation," Vidricksen said. If the park attracts as many visitors as expected, Vidricksen said the state will have to consider upgrading the turnpike system and other roads to handle the increased traffic. The Kansas Turnpike Authority, of which he is vice chairman, has talked about increasing the capacity of the turnpike for that reason, he said. "With that kind of traffic, we'll need it," he said.
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