‘Festival Tennessee’ Theme Park Proposed For Spring Hill - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

‘Festival Tennessee’ Theme Park Proposed For Spring Hill

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by Mark Bellinger & Jeff Tang

SPRING HILL, Tenn. - Spring Hill officials have announced plans for a major new theme park. The theme park would be called "Festival Tennessee," once developed.

The announcement was made at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Developers said they expected to invest $750 million of private funds to build a large, family friendly entertainment venue on 750 to 1,500 acres of land off Jim Warren Road.

Dennis Peterson, CEO of Big International Group of Entertainment based out of Las Vegas, said he had hopes of bringing restaurants, hotels, a sports complex, television studio and one of the largest water parks in the country that would include a Niagara Falls-type waterfall ride.

Spring Hill Mayor Michael Dinwiddie said when fully developed, the project would create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs in the area, based on similar projects.

"This community and this state need the funding that will come from what we're building. It will create more jobs... 15-20,000 jobs... minimum," Peterson said. "The revenue from this park will generate $400-$800 million total annual revenue."

Peterson also announced a plan to build a large basketball arena, and said his group has approached the NBA through different sources about bringing a team to Spring Hill.

Among the specifics announced by Peterson were:

  • 80 restaurants;
  • A new charter school with a focus on arts and graphic design;
  • A sports complex with soccer fields for the community to use;
  • A television and film studio;
  • 2 large hotels with 4,000 rooms each;
  • 2 magazines;
  • A conference center.

Peterson said the Florida-based company hired to design the theme park, I-Tech Services, also worked on Disney World, Universal Studios, Hard Rock Cafe and the House of Blues.

Those close to the deal remained tight lipped about much of the specific logistics of the proposal. Elected officials signed non-disclosure statements that prohibited them from talking to the public about the proposal before Monday's announcement.

Much of the land to be used for the theme park was annexed into Spring Hill and rezoned.

Peterson said his group has not officially purchased the property for the development, but he said there can be a soft opening by November 2012.

Neighbors are unhappy with the plan.

"When we found it we thought we'd found paradise, it was wonderful. We had many good years here," said Pat Bruhn.

"They got 200 acres, then 750 acres that's 900 some acres, it'll be big as Nashville when its done," according to James Wheatley.

"It's something that will not work.  They did nothing to address the people in the area," said added Hal Villines.

Neighbors simply don't believe the park belongs here.  With no sewage infrastructure, and no concrete plans to improve roads here, they also doubt it could be built in just a year and a half.

"Nobody knows. All we know is it will impact the area and it will not support it,"added Villines.

While the promise of 15,000 to 20,000 new jobs sounds good, residents can only hope that promise can be kept.

"Well I think it's good, but they're not paying like the old manufacturing jobs you know," Wheatley added.

One of the big concerns of neighbors of course is traffic. Jim Warren Road clearly isn't capable of handling a mega theme park. While developers insist traffic plans will be taken care of, they admit no concrete plans or steps have been made to do that yet.

There's also not much known about Peterson's business dealings. Nevada state records show Big International Company has not filed an annual report with the state since 2004. Back then it listed a capital amount of just $50,000.

There are also reports of his company having revoked licenses in Nevada.

"I've talked with him, I know about some of the things in the past," said Mayor Dinwiddie.

Mayor Dinwiddie has worked closely with Peterson on this projec and had questions of his own.

"So I've traveled to Florida, I've met with the individuals who are behind this proposal, I've met with the president of the company that's going to build this thing," Dinwiddie added.

The mayor said Festival Tennessee seems to be a legit deal.

"I have full confidence right now that this is a credible proposal and the people behind the scenes are in fact who they are," Dinwiddie told NewsChannel 5.

Spring Hill's vice mayor Eliot Mitchell is cautiously optimistic.

"I'm skeptic by nature," said Mitchell.

Mitchell said Peterson's past could play a part in the future of this Spring Hill project.

Mayor Dinwiddie promised to protect the city if the project wasn't completed. He said tax dollars would not pay for improvements to the property. 

Governor Bill Haslam remarked on the proposal while touring storm damage in Franklin County.

"Well, we'll see. We're obviously excited, that would be great news, and we're excited they didn't ask for any local or state help in doing that. So in these tough economic times, we're very encouraged," said Haslam.

There are contracts on that land in Spring Hill, but nothing has been purchased. The developers are waiting for it to be annexed and then re-zoned.

They hope to start clearing the land in May, and to break ground by mid-summer.

A small portion of Festival Tennessee could open in the Fall of 2012, with the theme park opening sometime in 2013.

Questions about road and infrastructure improvements necessary for a project of such magnitude went unanswered, other than to say that the company would pay for 100 percent of the theme park and required upgrades.

Despite the magnitude and economic scale of the proposal, state leaders were not in attendance at the news conference. NewsChannel 5 contacted several who said they knew nothing about the announcement.

When asked about the need for a new interchange off Interstate 65 leading to the property, Mayor Dinwiddie said no agreements had been made with the state.

Peterson said the two other similar projects were in the works in other U.S. locations, but did not disclose the other locations. He said all three projects would be built simultaneously.

Although a specific date for groundbreaking or an opening were not announced, Peterson said he planned to have a soft opening on Thanksgiving 2012 with an event to feed dinner to those less fortunate in Williamson, Maury and Rutherford Counties.

Click HERE to see a map of the proposed site.

City officials said the economic impact of the development will be larger than the former GM/Saturn plant that closed nearby.

Peterson said all the contracts to build the venue would be given to local companies employing local crews.

The mid-state has been without a major amusement park since Opryland closed in 1997.

Email: mbellinger@newschannel5.com & jtang@newschannel5.com

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