Rollercoaster

Some people love theme parks. They don’t mind lines. They crave the rides and the adrenaline. As an Arizonan since 1995, I’m not much for theme parks. 

But, man, do I love reading about proposed theme parks that never get built. 

I was reminded of that hobby the other day when not one but two theme park proposals drew local media attention. 

In the East Valley, Mesa may one day be the site of “Cannon Beach,” a new extravaganza said to include a 2-acre “surf lagoon,” plus a gym, climbing wall, go-kart racing, 75,000 square feet of commercial space, and a 65-foot-tall hotel and retail site.

As my buddy and ace reporter Jim Walsh explained in the Tribune, the developer—Cole Cannon—says he’s visited surf parks worldwide and hired experts in water dynamics to animate his dream: “We want to get a perfect wave.’’

In Mesa. In the desert. Where it’s 115 degrees. And flat as the revenue projections for surfing tourists.

Not to be outdone, the Glendale City Council recently approved “Crystal Lagoons, Island Resort,” an 11-acre water paradise purported to include paddleboarding, scuba diving and boogie boarding—plus “water jetpacks.”

Whatever the hell those are.

Naturally, Glendale electeds voted to waive $1 million in fees for the developer and employ a sweetheart financing deal known as a GPLET, which allows the builder to avoid paying property taxes for 25 years.

That’s predicated on the project being built, of course, which I doubt. Not to sound cynical, but, like I said, I’ve been following theme park news for years. 

The projects all follow a similar pattern: They get announced amid much braggadocio, make zero progress for years, then quietly expire.

In this case, the political barker du jour was Glendale Councilwoman Joyce Clark, who said at the Council meeting: “I am just so excited. … (This is) a blockbuster project that’s going to put Glendale on the map, not just in the Valley but in the Southwest.”

Which I’m sure is what some elected yoyo said when the Garden of Eden was built—and with nary a tax break, if you can imagine that.

Folks were similarly excited in Casa Grande in 2017 when Dreamport Villages—a $4 billion “Disneyland in the desert”—was announced for the area near I-10 and I-8. Four years later, it’s still nothing but a dream.

There were dreams galore in Williams near the Grand Canyon in 2015. Developers there announced a half-billion-dollar park they said would feature amusement park rides, an amphitheater, a hotel and spa, restaurants and an adventure course. The idea died two years later. 

So did plans for The Waveyard in Mesa, which fizzled out circa 2007. That project was supposed to feature an artificial whitewater river with kayakers shooting Class 4 rapids. There was also going to be an “artificial beach” and “a simulated ocean” allegedly capable of 12-foot-high waves.

 The only waves actually produced? Via the local news. 

That was also about the time the proposal for Decades, a rock ’n’ roll amusement park sited in Eloy, didn’t pan out. 

I was psyched for that one, since the developers touted rides named after rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and John Fogerty. It ended up a no-go.

Down the road in Florence, so did “Coyote Canyon,” which was supposed to feature roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, water attractions and the park’s very own train station.

These theme parks all sound great, but in the end they all seem to share one thing: The only people who get taken for a ride are the goofy politicians who brag about them.