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 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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