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Park News
15th annual Thea
by Paul Ruben
Award winners
Vanishing Act
The TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) has revealed the winners of
What is going on with American theme parks? They're dropping like
its 15th Thea Awards, due to be presented in March, where alongside
flies. Recently I visited Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, Winter
many Outstanding Achievement awards, Robert Ward will be recognised
Haven, Florida, the day before it was due to close and have all 38
for Lifetime Achievement and EPCOT given the Classic Award.
rides removed. Unless I get a hankerin' to stare at their banyon tree,
The 38-year career of Robert Ward in the worldwide leisure, resort
guess I won't return for a while; not gonna happen.
and entertainment industry began with Walt Disney Imagineering in
Cypress Gardens' demise as a theme park can be traced to the
Orlando in 1971 after he gained an art degree at Florida State. He
three hurricanes that struck the park in 2004. Then-owner Kent
then went on to spend over two decades with Universal Studios Parks &
Buescher was never adequately reimbursed by his insurer and
eventually filed for bankruptcy. Rob Harper and Brian Philpot of Land
For Universal Studios Hollywood, he was the creative leader in
South Holdings bought the now 72-year-old park in a bankruptcy
developing new, state-of-the-art attractions that would become the
sale last year, but were unable to operate it successfully as a
foundation for a unique, cutting-edge entertainment product and
combination ride park, waterpark, zoo, botanical garden and ski
business model for the company. During the mid-'80s and early '90s,
show. With the rides gone I'm guessing they can now build
Bob led the conceptualisation and masterplanning of the Universal
Orlando Resort.
Before that, the ill-conceived Hard Rock Park, Myrtle Beach, South
Then, as senior vice-president of international development, he was
Carolina, closed and will be auctioned off. Will the next prospective
responsible for all design and planning of overseas enterprises including
park operator who wants to build at the seashore, and who expects
Universal Studios Japan and the Universal Mediterranea Resort in Spain.
to attract visitors during daytime beach time, please call and ask if
His work with the Chinese Government and private entities resulted in
it's a good idea? I'll even save you the call; it ain't.
the proposed $1 billion Universal Studios Shanghai project.
Then there is Coney Island's Astroland, forced into closure at the
In 2005, Bob established his own consulting practice and remains
end of last summer by an aggressive real estate developer. It now
very active with industry conferences, seminars and school presentations.
looks promising, however, that the city of New York may buy the land
Since it first opened in 1982, EPCOT at Walt Disney World in Florida
and restore the rides. Sure hope so.
has revolutionised and redefined several sectors of the themed
Before I forget, there is also Wild West World, Wichita, Kansas,
entertainment industry and has influenced not only the development of
that opened and closed in a 63-day span. One could write a
theme parks but also museums, branding experiences, educational
textbook about clueless park planning and management from this
attractions and more.
For more than a quarter century, it has been the gold standard for
Don't forget the case of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio,
information-based or inspiration-based themed entertainment. The world
where three parks recently disappeared. Erieview Park, Geneva,
continues to study EPCOT, learn from it and aspire to emulate it. Based
Ohio, and Conneaut Lake Park, Conneaut Lake, Ohio, closed in
around an acronym denoting "Experimental Prototype Community Of
2006, followed in 2007 by Geauga Lake, Aurora, Ohio. Nearby
Tomorrow," in accordance with Walt Disney's original vision, the park
Waldameer Park, Erie, Pennsylvania (Paul Nelson and Steve
demonstrated that education and entertainment can be part of the same
Gorman) seized the moment, introduced a major wood coaster in
attraction package. Even today EPCOT ranks among the best-attended
2008, and have seen their gross revenues increase by more than
theme parks worldwide.
30%. Good for them!
Winners of Outstanding Achievement awards have been confirmed as
Nevertheless, that's at least seven parks closed in recent memory.
The Simpsons Ride, Universal Studios Hollywood & Orlando
For a variety of reasons, I enjoyed them all, and will miss them.
(attraction achievement); BeWILDerwood, Norwich, UK and The
Fortunately, most of the rides survive and will operate elsewhere. It's
Forgotten Mine, Molenheide, Belgium (limited budget attractions);
business, of course. Like the magician's rabbit, hare today, gone
The Newseum, Washington DC, and National Museum of the
Marine Corps, Quantico, USA (museums); Operation Spy,
It's not like I haven't seen old parks vanish. But after a 30-year
International Spy Museum, Washington DC, and Forces of Nature,
frenzy of bulldozing old parks and building shiny new theme parks I
Arizona Science Center, USA (museum exhibits); Air Force One
thought the consolidation had come to an end. And to tell you the
Discovery Center, Simi Valley, California (learning experience);
truth, the closing of a
Muppet Mobile Lab, Hong Kong Disneyland, China (technical);
new park today, one
Audubon Insectarium, New Orleans LA, USA (science centre);
to which I had not
Jungala, Busch Gardens Africa, USA (new theme park land): 2008
become emotionally
Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Beijing, China (event spectacular);
attached, is
Finding Nemo The Musical, Walt Disney World, Orlando, and
acceptable. It's
Legend of Mythica, Tokyo DisneySea, Japan (live
business; I
shows); and the Tree of Prosperity show, Wynn
understand. But the
Macau, China (casino attraction achievement).
loss of just one of the
Further details of individual award winners and the
wonderful old parks
reasons they were chosen can be found on the TEA
brings grief to this
website: The Thea Awards Gala
Park Hopper.
ceremony takes place at the Disneyland Hotel in
California on March 7, 2009.
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