Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Branson, Missouri: Marketing Boom or Bust?

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Branson, Missouri: Marketing Boom or Bust?

Article excerpt

The hot little rural recreation hamlet of 3,700 residents originally was named for Reuben Branson, who came to Taney County in the early 1880s. In 1905, the White River Division Railway developed the area to ship manufactured railroad ties. In 1907, Harold Bell Wright wrote Shepherd of the Hills, a romantic novel which popularized the beauty and virtues of the Ozarks as an escape from civilization's cares, and 1913 brought the impoundment of now cold water Lake Taneycomo by the Powersite Dam on the White River, just a few miles south of the Branson Strip. Larger, warm water Table Rock Lake itself, 55,000 acres of water area, came into being in the winter of 1959.

In 1945, Hugo & Mary Herschend leased Marvel Cave from a local church, which the family developed into a major theme park in 1960. More recently came a modern limited access highway, U.S. 65, from Springfield to the Arkansas state line, the main artery for visitors to Branson, Missouri.

The 1980s saw the takeoff of country music in Branson. It was a change from "on the road" to "off the road" for many musicians. Roy Clark, Boxcar Willie, Loretta Lynn, and Mel Tillis were among the first stars to make a home of Branson. These were preceded by the Baldknobbers in 1959, the Presley family in 1967, and the Foggy River Boys in 1971. The city now is seeing an increasing number of Nashville and Las Vegas refugees.

In 1993, Branson entertainers held a flood victim benefit which attracted Bob Hope and H. Ross Perot. Jerry Lewis conducted his Muscular Dystrophy telethon there. And Billy Ray Cyrus, John Denver, and Ann Murray all performed in sold-out concerts.

Now, the railroad is trying to make a comeback with an excursion train in the region, sponsored by a small private partnership of Kansas City entrepreneurs. The run now extends from Branson south to Myrtle, Arkansas, and north to Reeds Spring, Missouri. Proponents are making efforts to extend the tracks further north to Aurora, Missouri, and then eastward to Springfield.

Growth and Statistics

At the close of 1993, Branson boasted more than 14,000 motel/hotel rooms, 6,000 campsites (Corps of Engineers, commercial, or Missouri Department of Natural Resources), 24,000 restaurant seats, 37,000 indoor and 22,000 outdoor theater seats, with more hotels, restaurants, and theaters planned.

A six-story-screen IMAX theater was completed in October. The feasibility of a convention center currently is under study. Branson Hills Development, a 1,400-acre recreation community (involving

Lee Iacocca) and a Victorian resort, Branson Meadows, are underway. Branson Meadows plans include three 2,000-seat theaters, a 60-acre theme attraction, 2,000 hotel rooms, 700 apartments and condominiums, and a town center with shops and restaurants. Cooper Communities has slated a $260 million recreation development plan. In nearby Blue Eye, Camelot, a Renaissance park, will be completed in July 1994.

In January, Steve Presley announced the $175 million Heartland America on 53 acres of Presley land. This with feature a mall to be built by the builder of Minnesota's Mall of America. It will feature more than 450,000 square feet of retail space and an outdoor plaza with eighty-foot water fountain. The development also will include a 350-room high rise-Radisson with restaurants, 225-room high-rise Radisson Suites, 150-suite Country Suites by Carlson, 2,000-seat Presley Theater, Discovery World family attraction, and 3,300-seat live performance theater.

Most recently, developer John Q. Hammons announced a ground-breaking for the construction of a $30 million self-contained resort to be named Chateau on the Lake. To open in 1996, it will include a 300-room hotel, golf course, tennis courts, and marina. Just 35 miles north, Springfield plans to build a 700-acre tourism entertainment zone with the passage of a referendum this August.

The Branson Chamber of Commerce reported a yearly average of 2. …

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