New $2 billion theme park pitched in rural Oklahoma

July 19, 2023, 1:35 PM · Here's another one for those of you who like to play Imagineer at home. A Branson, Missouri-based entertainment company is proposing what it calls a $2 billion theme park development for northeast Oklahoma.

Mansion Entertainment Group, LLC today announced American Heartland Theme Park and Resort, a 1,000-acre development outside Vinita, Oklahoma, just over the Missouri border. The resort would include a 320-acre campground with 750 RV spaces and 300 cabins, slated to open in 2025. But the anchor of the resort would be the 125-acre American Heartland Theme Park, which would open in 2026.

American Heartland has hired THG Creative (formerly Themespace and The Hettema Group) and FORREC to design the park, so there's legit talent behind the concept work. The park would include "thrilling rides and heartwarming shows" across six themed lands: Great Plains, Bayou Bay, Big Timber Falls, Stony Point Harbor, Liberty Village, and Electropolis.

American Heartland Theme Park concept art
Concept art courtesy American Heartland

"American Heartland will be a place families can come together to create lasting memories, experience joy, laughter, imagination and wonder," American Heartland Founder and Chief Creative Officer Gene Bicknell said. "There is so much to celebrate about our country: its landscapes, its cultures and most importantly, its people. No matter where you're from, you'll feel right at home at American Heartland."

Additional elements in the resort plan include a 300-room hotel and an indoor waterpark.


Mansion Entertainment Group runs The Mansion Theatre For The Performing Arts in Branson and sponsored the grand finale show for this year's Rose Parade, so it has access to some capital. But $2 billion? That’s the current market cap of the entire Six Flags chain.

As someone who has been covering the theme park industry for more than two decades and has spoken with many of the leaders in this business over that time, I always greet new theme park development proposals with skepticism. New parks pitched by companies with extensive theme park development experience don't always end up getting built. Parks proposed by companies new to the industry even more rarely happen. And the higher the price tag attached to a proposal, the more skeptical I become.

The late Buzz Price's Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers [Amazon affiliate link] is required reading for anyone looking to understand the economics behind starting a new theme park. Although the site for the proposed American Heartland Theme Park and Resort stands near Interstate 44, it's still miles away from any major city or airport.

Vinita is about 150 miles from Branson, which has managed to become a mid-sized tourist destination with more than nine million visitors a year, despite also being far removed from major metro areas and transportation. But Branson's Silver Dollar City has yet to crack the TEA/AECOM Theme Index for top 20 theme parks in North America, and there's a real risk that a tourist development in northeast Oklahoma could be competitive to Branson attractions rather than complementary to them.

Kristy Adams, senior executive vice president of sales and marketing for Mansion Entertainment Group, said in the press release that the resort would attract more than two million out-of-state visitors to Oklahoma each year. That would match Silver Dollar City's annual attendance, which seems to me to be ambitious for a park with no IP in a location with no substantial built-in visitor base. Anyone remember Hard Rock Park? That park had both, and still failed.

At least it did get built, however.

So pardon me for reporting this park proposal with skepticism rather than declaring it a done deal that is happening in 2026. I am happy that the good people at THG and FORREC got work in putting this together, and I do hope that the team at American Heartland can get this built. But this proposal reads like too many failed new American theme park projects for me to get too excited about it just yet.

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Replies (27)

July 19, 2023 at 2:03 PM

Never going to break ground, because no bank or investors will ever give them the money for it. Terrible location, bad weather for much of the year, and no IP or major attractions lined up to speak for it.


On a side note - I keep wondering why Buzz' book has never been given the e-book treatment. Seems to still be a very prized book in much of the theme park community (and among many academics in the space I know), so I wonder why that is.

July 19, 2023 at 3:55 PM

Good luck to them, but given another discussion, this has got to be right up there in terms of one of the worst ever locations for a theme park. Who's driving to middle of nowhere Oklahoma to visit a theme park? Yes, Branson is kind of in the middle of nowhere, as are Santa Claus, IN and Gatlinburg, TN, but those areas have created additional draws outside of their respective theme parks and are still within 4 hours drive of a major US city.

Also, where in the world is this group getting $2 billion to finance this development?

July 19, 2023 at 4:39 PM

This would be a perfect investment opportunity for Schneeder ….

July 19, 2023 at 5:02 PM

Beyond that Robert my first thoughts were that its the same pitch problem as california adventure. Selling California in California didn't work, would selling "America's heartland" in "America's Heartland" really be a compelling theme.

I guess what we can say in their pocket is they're not under any disillusion this can be done on the cheap.

July 19, 2023 at 5:18 PM

Looking at that concept art, I am struggling to see what would drive the price up to $2B. A couple coasters, a flume, some flats and show theaters - that seems like a $100-200 million park to me, given what I am assuming are low land acquisition costs. Maybe current construction difficulty pushes that another $50-100 million. But you need some crazy finishes and custom ride systems to get into 10 figures in this business.

That said, even a $100 million park would struggle to make back investment in a rural Middle America market. (Someone call the Bertch family about their struggle to fill Lost Island Theme Park.) There is a "go big or go home" mentality that I generally endorse when it comes to making new attractions, but I just don't see a $2B park in these plans, much less a compelling one that would get the average theme park fan to book a trip there.

As to Chad's point, I share the fear expressed by some followers on social media that "American Heartland" is less a theme in this proposal and more a dog whistle.

July 19, 2023 at 5:38 PM

As to Chad's point, I share the fear expressed by some followers on social media that "American Heartland" is less a theme in this proposal and more a dog whistle.

This, first thing I thought. Given the connotations around "American's Heartland" these days, I assumed this was a shooting range.

July 19, 2023 at 7:04 PM

"Flyover Country" didn't test as well I guess

July 19, 2023 at 7:10 PM

I'm sure this will happen right after that Pole Coaster in Orlando finishes up

July 19, 2023 at 8:13 PM

This would have been a farfetched storyline in Ozark. And given the attendance figures the industry is seeing as a whole, nobody would be foolish enough to sink this much money into a new park. If anything, investors are probably keeping their powder dry, hoping to pick up some of the smaller Six Flags parks when that chain ultimately decides to downsize their footprint.

July 19, 2023 at 8:32 PM

As an Okie I don’t believe this park will be built. Vinita isn’t a large populated area in Oklahoma and the two closest areas that could provide a workforce (Tulsa and Joplin) are a hour away.

Vinita was home to one major attraction in the past - The World’s Largest McDonalds. It spanned I44, but is no longer in business.

My bet is that the rv park will be built. There is a key piece of tourism in Oklahoma - Route 66 nostalgia. Oklahoma has more miles of Route 66 than any other state along with kitschy attractions that dot it. There is a large group of international travelers that come to Oklahoma specifically for the road. I feel that the theme park portion is a blue sky concept to attract potential investors or to grift money from them.

Take a look at the Mansion Entertainment website. It doesn’t reflect a company that has plenty of cash to implement a plan like this. If this was the Herschend family proposing a park I would take notice.

The theme of the park also caused me to reflect on the true meaning or intentions the company is promoting. If you look at plenty of the attractions and shows in Branson they would give you the same uneasy sense as well. Whether intended on purpose or not. Unless this park gets built one can only speculate and on very little information to go by.

Okies have a history of getting swindled by their own or from outsiders and most Okies have short term memories. So it’s my belief this group is banking on that notoriety.

July 19, 2023 at 9:00 PM

when i heard about this story today on a "bell's amusement park needs to be rebuilt page" on facebook, it immediately reminded me of a project in the mid 70's called Seven Continents that was going to be built in Stroud, OK, halfway between OKC and Tulsa. probably hard to find any information on it now, but there were many news stories about it back in the day and this theme park crazy kid who lived in Norman was foaming at the mouth with excitement. the project never saw the light of day, just like the Oceanside Oklahoma water park that had a huge 2 day country concert with some big names for the kick off announcement. but probably the biggest tease was the Little River Landing water park on the border of Norman and Moore that actually had an entrance and slides get built, only to to stand and rot before being dismantled many years later for a housing development. just like the doubts Bell's will ever come back, my home state is a constant wish list tease of projects like this. when i was a kid, Silver Dollar City didn't offer much like Six Flags Over Texas it's a pretty great park that i would rank over SFOT. i seriously doubt this Heartland of America or whatever will draw what they do. someone mentioned the horrible weather, which is true, but OK politics in the last few years has been chasing away their best and brightest young folks and OK is not exactly known for natural beauty so there's not a whole lot to offer there. and $2Billion with a B? why would anyone invest that kind of money? makes no sense. i agree, the RV park is a good idea, and those folks will probably be happy with the short drive to branson to see the shows and visit SDC. this will never see the light of day

July 19, 2023 at 9:06 PM

a little googling...from the Oklahoman, Aug. 19, 1983

Is it really a biggie?

TALK OF WATER theme parks was pretty cheap a few years ago. Investors wanted the press to know about their big plans so the public could get excited along with them.

Plans for at least three water theme parks have gone astray in recent years. Little River Landing, at I-35 and SW 19 in Moore, started construction two years ago.

In midstream, the project mysteriously shut down. Now, the 20-acre parcel is to be developed with homes and businesses. Developers are a little tighter with their words on this project.

Oceanside Oklahoma, a 53-acre park near Little Axe and Lake Thunderbird, was to have featured a surf pool similar to that at White Water, a giant waterslide and play areas for children.

It was to have drawn 3,500 customers a day and employ 250. That project, unlike Little River Landing, never made it to the building stage. Property owners have no plans for the 40-acre parcel.

In Stroud, boasts of a multimillion-dollar theme park built on a piece of land the size of New Jersey have also proved untrue. When unveiled, promoters said there was no question the $100 million Seven Continents Amusement Park would be built. It never happened and the land was auctioned off two years ago.

Failure of the two water theme projects and the Stroud park to materialize leads us an observation: In today's world of high-dollar hype, its seems promotion precedes financing and development.

Next time someone comes into town and says of a theme park, "This is big," the words need to be weighed carefully. BIOG: NAME:

July 19, 2023 at 9:36 PM

oh yeah, completely forgot that one of the signature attractions at Seven Continents was to be a 10 minute Mt. Everest themed roller coaster. i remember that news vividly. the rest of the details of attractions were sketchy at best.

July 19, 2023 at 9:58 PM

Truly excellent comments! Some funny ("Flyover Country" LOL), some informative, and some insightful. This is why I love TPI. Thanks to all for keeping your comments relevant and thoughtful.

July 19, 2023 at 11:05 PM

This seems like some kind of Marty Byrde money laundering scheme.

July 19, 2023 at 11:20 PM

If there was a zero off the budget, I'd be a lot more likely to believe this park was legit as the location doesn't seem unreasonable, as it's directly along an interstate only about an hour outside Tulsa and does have a population of roughly 2 million within 75 miles (by comparison, Silver Dollar City has 1.3 million people within the same radius). However, there's no way anyone's going to invest $2 billion into a project like this, as even if they got their two million visitors per year that's probably going to wind up as a loss. A project of this scale could probably realistically be done for half a billion, with $200-300 million of that for the theme park itself and the rest for the hotel, campground, and waterpark. If done on that scale and adjusted to target a million guests per year, it'd probably work, but as presented this proposal it's dead on arrival.

July 20, 2023 at 3:57 AM

Someone is trying to swindle some cash due to the anti-Disney bandwagon I think...

What looks to be a car ride that loops half the park has me in giggles. Really showing how great America's heartland is: flat, boring, and mostly straight shots with our highway system. They nailed it in the concept.

Real question is will they be ICE cars or EV cars? My money is on ICE cars since it would be more 'merican!

July 20, 2023 at 6:03 AM

If they built this closer to Branson (no idea about land availability) - this might be the thing to elevate it from mid-tier destination to upper tier.

The problem with places like Branson is that most people on the coast have no idea where or what it is. Same thing for Wisconsin Dells. The Coastal people are the ones with the most money to spend.

When you mention you are going to those places the first question is 'Are you visiting family?'.

July 20, 2023 at 8:31 AM

This story gets even weirder...

This whole operation is being funded by eccentric pizza magnate Gene Bicknell. He used to own a bunch of Pizza Huts. The guys is kind of skeezy and self financed a bunch of "movies" he also starred in so he could hook up with "stars" like Vanna White.

Whole Movie lol:

July 20, 2023 at 9:42 AM

@Aaron: my thoughts exactly!

July 20, 2023 at 11:49 AM

This is looking more and more like a strange scam that will never come close to breaking ground.

July 20, 2023 at 11:54 AM

Even that painting looks like artist was told "look, just toss together some stuff that looks cool for a park, never mind if it's truly logical." You've got a huge roller coaster through buildings, water coaster on a mountain, a stunt show, a race track extending around the park...I've seen more realistic takes on Roller Coaster Tycoon playthroughs.

July 20, 2023 at 12:51 PM

@Mike - There IS a lot going on in that concept art!

July 20, 2023 at 8:04 PM

Jastein: a second park in Branson, “Celebration City” was open and closed in the 2000s. There is really no room for 2 parks that close together in Branson (although the Herschend family owned both).

I hope it happens and is a great success. In theory, it could become a similar kind of destination for middle-America and southern folks much like Branson and Pigeon Forge, but I think it has an uphill battle, though.

July 20, 2023 at 10:52 PM


July 21, 2023 at 7:35 AM

Puy du FoU-S-A! U-S-A!

July 21, 2023 at 10:57 AM

If the price tag is actually $2 billion ... How much do we believe an e-ticket attraction costs?

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