Debate over Economic Incentives Entering Another Round

By Mathis, Karen Brune | The Florida Times Union, October 4, 2000 | Go to article overview

Debate over Economic Incentives Entering Another Round


Mathis, Karen Brune, The Florida Times Union


The incentives issue could be heading for another wild ride.

Just a week after a local printing company and a Jacksonville Economic Development Commission member spoke out against incentives for a California-based printer to move into North Jacksonville, another area venture is gearing up to oppose incentives for a potential competitor.

Beaches-based Adventure Entertainment Corp., operator of the Adventure Landing parks and other attractions, is preparing to oppose any incentives that the city might offer the owner of the Wet 'n Wild chain to move its headquarters to Jacksonville and possibly open a theme park.

"This whole economic incentives thing is getting a little out of hand," said Randy Levinson, chairman and chief executive officer of Adventure Entertainment.

As we've reported, Alpha SmartParks, which owns Wet 'n Wild and other attractions, has been considering moving its headquarters from New Orleans and possibly opening a theme park in North Jacksonville. Alpha formerly was Ogden Parks Group.

Levinson said Adventure Entertainment consolidated its headquarters at the Beaches in February 1999, has spent about $15 million renovating its Adventure Landing parks in the Beaches area and in West Jacksonville, "and we didn't ask for any incentives."

The objections were news to Mike Weinstein, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. Weinstein said yesterday he had not heard from Adventure executives, and he said that no deal was pending with the Alpha SmartParks chain.

"We look forward to interesting debates, but it's really premature as far as the city is concerned. We are just not in the hunt or in the middle of a deal by any stretch of the imagination," Weinstein said.

Weinstein said Alpha SmartParks was in the early stages of looking for land for a potential $25 million to $40 million amusement park that would feature rides as well as a water attraction. He also said the company was considering a headquarters move that would involve up to an estimated 50 to 60 jobs that included high-tech positions.

He said Alpha SmartParks is aware of the city's development focus on areas north and west of the St. Johns River, including the core city. "Downtown for the headquarters and Northside for the amusement park is what we are interested in," he said.

Weinstein said the chain "could possibly just do a headquarters. They could just do an amusement park, or they could do both. They are studying it internally. We are very interested in a substantial amusement facility."

At this point, he said it was "50-50 that something will work."

Weinstein said no specific dollar figures are under discussion, but that the parks have generated state and city incentives in other locales. For now, "we are not sitting across the table at this point. There are no specific requests while they continue to do their own business due diligence."

Alpha SmartParks executives were traveling and unavailable for comment through mid-afternoon yesterday.

A little background:

Adventure Entertainment began in 1974 with a miniature golf course and now comprises 15 facilities in five states. Two of its Adventure Landing family entertainment centers, including the Beaches-area facility, include water parks. The company employs 1,200 people during its busy season. About 12 to 15 people work at corporate headquarters, and three to four are considered senior executives.

New Orleans-based Alpha SmartParks owns or manages 14 water, theme and amusement parks in the United States, Latin America and Europe. …

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