WHEELING — In June 2006, Upper Ohio Valley residents were promised a “wild escape” at The Highlands, one where water slides and amusement park rides would come together to create an outdoor entertainment extravaganza.
It’s now 13 months later and ground has yet to be broken on the proposed Wild Escape Theme Park. And many in the community are beginning to question if it ever will.
One of those who doesn’t question the park’s validity is Steve Minard, the man who created the idea behind Wild Escape. He remains adamant that his $200 million plan in Ohio County will come to fruition — that is if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues the proper permits.
“It would have been nice if we could have opened part of the park this year because I have already invested $10 million into this project, but good things come to those who wait,” said Minard.
Minard, president of Wild Escape, has said he may have to move his pre-purchased rides to a different, unspecified location if it takes the Ohio County Development Authority too long to secure permits for his site.
However, Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton said he is hopeful those permits will be in place within the next 30 to 45 days.
“If that happens, then we will be able to start moving dirt for the park by Labor Day,” said Wharton.
Officials had originally projected the theme park to be partially open by this month, but Minard said permit issues involving the Army Corps have led to repeated delays in construction.
Now, officials say the earliest any portion of the park may be open is spring 2008.
Minard said 6 million cubic yards of dirt still need to be moved to prepare the site for the 100-acre theme park. Minard also said he and his fellow investors are financing all of the site preparation and excavation.
The Ohio County Development Authority is financing $30 million in infrastructure improvements for the project, primarily for an interstate interchange. This money would come through tax increment financing.
Stewart said the Ohio County Development Authority is still waiting for the Army Corps to approve the current development plans that call for filling in a retaining pond and the valley surrounding it.
“The Army Corps of Engineers doubled the size of the original permit area. We are working through this as fast as we can, but we have no control over what the Army Corps wants to do,” he said.
“I am very frustrated with this whole permit situation right now because it is not as if we are asking for permission to tear up someone’s favorite fishing area, or negatively impact a high quality environment. If anything, we are trying to improve the environment up at The Highlands, so I do not see what the hold-up has been with these permits.”
Repeated phone calls seeking comment from the Army Corps of Engineers Office in Pittsburgh were not returned.
Minard said the permit delay may cause him to relocate rides already purchased for Wild Escape.
“I have already ordered the rides and equipment for the West Virginia location. If the permit process takes too long, I may transfer the equipment I have ordered to another location so that I can start earning a profit from it. Then, I would order new equipment for the West Virginia site whenever it is ready to go,” he said.
Minard said he is currently developing five different Wild Escape sites throughout the country.
“In addition to the Wheeling site, we are working on a Wild Escape for Omaha, Neb., as well as three other sites that I have yet to announce,” he said.
Minard said his rides are currently being manufactured at various places throughout the world, including Germany, England, Italy, Argentina and the U.S.
“The bottom line is that if the permit process for the Wheeling site would happen to take too long, it would not be very cost-effective for me to let my rides just sit around after I have already paid millions for them, so I would need to send them somewhere that will let me make some money from them,” he said.
“Wild Escape will be built at The Highlands in West Virginia, no matter how long it takes,” he added.
Minard went on to say he has confidence the development authority will get the site ready for his park as soon as possible.
“It will probably take about 90 days from the time the permit is issued for our pad to be ready for use. Once the pad is ready for use, we will probably have the park open about six months later,” he said.
“I am ready to have the rides shipped to West Virginia right now, so as soon as the site is ready, I will be ready.”
Fact Box“We are fully committed to coming to West Virginia and have no intention of taking this project anywhere else.”
president of Wild Escape