Is an Atlanta speedway showing us the future of theme parks?

October 22, 2019, 1:43 PM · Last year, I asked if an American auto racing track could support a theme park development, in a post titled Imagining America's 'Ferrari World'. I suggested the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the concept, but now another race track has gone ahead and proposed its own theme park development plan.

The Atlanta Motor Speedway is pitching a major redevelopment plan that includes an "adventure park," indoor/outdoor water park, a family entertainment center, and a concert venue. But don't hold your breath waiting for this resort to open.

That's because the parks are not the anchor for this proposed development. Like the integrated resorts that have become popular in Asia, the proposed Atlanta project includes a casino. And that's the big issue holding up this plan, as getting permission to build a casino would require amending the Georgia state constitution.

A glance at the project's concept art also suggests that this development isn't quite yet, well, developed. At least not from the theme park side.

AMS concept art
Concept art courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway

One concept image shows what appears to be five different roller coast tracks on the proposed adventure park's seven and a half acres. Another infographic shows what looks like three, completely different, coaster tracks in the same space. And few of these coaster depictions seems to adhere to the laws of physics, suggesting that there is no actual plans for rides in the park at this point. It's just a graphic artist throwing in squiggles to suggest that there might be coasters there.

With Six Flags Over Georgia closer to most of the Atlanta metro area than the Speedway is, and Orlando just six hours down the road (once you are clear of Atlanta traffic), it's hard to imagine how seven and a half acres of rides - and no IP partner - would entice more than just the most credit-hungry theme park fans. But this isn't just a theme park proposal. Nor is it a mini-Yas Island, with a theme park, water park, shopping mall, and race track. It's an American-style integrated resort, with that 85,000-square-foot Foxwoods casino there to keep the big bucks flowing.

Developers of these resorts invest in the cliche that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts — that a resort which offers a variety of experiences can attract more visitors than those individuals attractions in separate locations would. They key to making that synergy work is to put together a somewhat compatible collection of attractions, however.

Disney and Universal have shown that a combination of theme parks, water parks, shopping, recreation, cinema, and hotels works in the United States. But what about the gambling?

Integrated casino resorts work well in Asia, where gambling doesn't have the moral baggage it often carries in many American communities. (That's why it's banned in so many places, after all.) The demographics of casino visitors also skew older than the average theme or water park visitor in the United States these days, too.

It's also tough to site a theme park next to a major sporting venue, unless the two attract their crowds at different times of the year. Walt Disney World abandoned its IndyCar race in part because it could not afford to give up its Magic Kingdom parking lot for any weekend of the year any longer. And the presence of Levi's Stadium next to California's Great America limits that park's ability to expand its calendar in the fall.

Atlanta's NASCAR Cup date next year falls in the middle of March, which could lead nicely into the opening of the adjacent theme and water parks' season, but the track's NASCAR date would need to continue to fall outside the summer season to maximize attraction attendance and revenue. No more going back to Labor Day. (Though there's probably no chance that Darlington is giving up that date again.)

Ultimately, though, this project is all about the casino. If the state Legislature and Georgia voters approve it, the project might happen. But without that, this is simply an interesting hypothetical.

But I do think that it is interesting. As I suggested in the Indy post (linked above), although the American market might now be too mature to support the development of a major new theme park resort from scratch, it certainly can support new themed entertainment attractions that include elements associated with theme parks. Much like horse and dog racing tracks turned to casino gambling when support for those form of racing declined, other sporting venues might now look to compatible attractions to keep attendance growing as revenue and attendance for their core business stagnates or declines. (The Atlanta speedway once had two Cup dates, for example.)

Later this week, a new indoor amusement park/shopping mall development from the owners of Mall of America will open in New Jersey. So what's on the table in Atlanta right now might not be a one-off to be ignored, but an additional example of what the future of theme park development in the United States appears to be.

Visiting Atlanta? Visiting Atlanta? For discount tickets to area attractions, including the Atlanta CityPass, visit our Atlanta attraction tickets page.

Replies (7)

October 22, 2019 at 2:21 PM

Well, Las Vegas already showed that gambling/entertainment venues co-sighted with roller coasters and other theme park-style attractions doesn't really work. The casinos want butts at tables and staring at slot machines, not standing on-line for a roller coaster or dark ride. Also those theme park style options don't offer the same attractiveness as Broadway-style shows, Cirque performances, and all-you-can-eat buffets to keep players gambling to earn perks. There's also the age issue with casinos catering exclusively to adults while most theme parks attract a family audience. Any American entertainment center anchored by a casino is highly unlikely to be partnered with a theme park or amusement park in today's climate.

I do wonder when someone will develop the concept of an adults-only theme park. I'm not sure if there's a proof-of-concept out there beyond the success and growth of HHN, but if investors are willing to take a risk, creating a theme park targeted exclusively at adults might be able to work together with a casino and/or sporting venue that also offers gambling. If you think about it, Vegas-style casinos are already kind of adult theme parks, just without any of the rides.

October 22, 2019 at 4:08 PM

There is no market for this. An annual pass to Six Flags in Atlanta is like $60 (and I say annual pass because the park is only closed a couple months) and like you said Orlando, the attractions capital of the world, is a relatively short drive.

Also casino clientele in this country is not really the southern baptist type that is in this region. Not many people are going to take their kids to a place like this and not many old people are going to want to go to it.

October 22, 2019 at 5:01 PM

I was on the understanding that the primary industry of Atlanta is "getting out of Atlanta", closely followed by Coca Cola.

October 22, 2019 at 7:41 PM

Will you be doing an article on the new Nickelodeon Universe at American Dream?

October 22, 2019 at 7:50 PM

This makes little sense when there's a major Six Flags park less than an hour away, and since it all relies on an amendment to get the casino built the chances of it ever happening are slim to none. While I do think mixed developments are likely the future for new parks in the US, the different parts of the development need to complement each other and exist in a location where they have drawing power. This doesn't work on either account.

October 23, 2019 at 10:43 AM

Given this "concept drawing" looks worse than a bad Rollercoaster Tycoon game, I'm not sure this plan should be given more weight until we know more details. I'll be amazed this ever gets off the drawing board stage.

October 23, 2019 at 6:38 PM

Does anyone know how successful the Kansas City NASCAR track is doing with a casino on the nearby grounds? Is track attendance impacted up or down?

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