A water and snow park proposed for Nashville must meet various challenges if it is to be successful, according to officials who follow the amusement park industry.
“These are complicated businesses,” said Gene Jeffers, executive director of the Burbank, Calif.-based Themed Entertainment Association.
Last week, Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Dolly Parton/Dollywood announced a 50-50 venture that will develop on a 114-acre site a family entertainment zone across Briley Parkway from the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
Phase I of the $50 million project will be the water and snow park. Groundbreaking is anticipated by early 2013, with the park's opening slated for the summer of 2014. About 450 employees, both full- and part-time, could be hired.
Jeffers, whose association primarily represents designers and builders of amusement parks, said he will follow the effort closely.
“A key, particularly for the snow park, is getting the right technology for the climate,” he said.
Jeffers noted Dubai, a United Arab Emirates city known for its searing temperatures, has a successful snow park. The world’s largest facility of its type, the snow park is located indoors and requires state-of-the-art technology to battle the blazing daytime heat.
Though Gaylord/Dollywood officials have not provided full details, the snow park is expected to operate outdoors and during the colder season.
Jeffers said for any medium- to large-scale amusement park to be successful, the city in which it operates needs to have a large population and/or attract visitors.
“Major parks like this rely on people coming back,” he said.
One factor that might benefit Nashville’s park: There are a limited number of snow parks nationally, with perhaps the closest being located in Stone Mountain, Ga.
“It’s a growing market but a relatively small number,” Jeffers said of snow parks.
David Sangree, president of Cleveland-based Hotel & Leisure Advisors, said the Gaylord/Parton announcement raised the eyebrows of those officials within the amusement park industry.
“People are certainly talking about the project,” said Sangree, who was a speaker at the World Waterpark Association's 31st Annual Symposium and Tradeshow that took place last October in New Orleans.
Asked if Nashville is ready for a snow park, Sangree noted amusement park visitors can be “fickle.”
“They’ll have to do some heavy marketing for that one,” he said.
Sangree said the Gaylord/Parton team has the money to invest in snowmaking technology.
“They’ll have the technology, but there isn’t as much data on that [to predict its long-term success],” he said.
Jeff Coy, president of Phoenix-based JLC Hospitality Consulting, a firm that tracks the water park and snow park industries, said numerous citizens “miss the old Opryland amusement park” and, as such, the proposed facility could prove popular.
However, an outdoor snow park — even with snow-making — could be “risky,” said Coy (pictured here).
“The real missed opportunity here is the proposed water park and snow park are located across [Briley Parkway] from the Opryland Hotel,” Coy said. “That means the water park cannot be attached to the hotel. Stand-alone indoor water parks are not commercially viable, so the water park across the street will be an outdoor water park. That’s OK, but not great.”
Another key to the success of the park, according to those interviewed for this story, will be its design. To date, the Gaylord/Parton team has yet to announce a company that will handle architectural, planning, landscape and engineering work.
Pete Owens, a Dollywood spokesman, said the team is in the “early stages of design and development.”
“All of the key vendors have not been identified for the project,” Owens said. “We are fast tracking the park to ensure it opens on time. We expect a complete design by the time we break ground.”
Of note, the Gaylord/Dollywood venture will compete, to an extent, with the privately owned Nashville Shores and Metro’s Wave Country. Sangree called the competition a potential “negative.”
“But the market is pretty big and Nashville is a good market,” he said.
In the end, Jeffers said both the Gaylord/Parton name recognition and Dollywood’s successful track record will be huge advantages. For example, Dollywood offers Splash Country Water Park.
“Having a [high-profile] name attached to it is a real plus,” Jeffers said. “And experience at running and operating a park for many years is a very major plus, too.”