In the past several weeks, developers associated with the theme park company Six Flags have been scouting several locations in Fresno County, including Fresno and Clovis, for an “entertainment venue” and other associated businesses such as hotels and retail.
For decades, Central California has been lacking a major theme park or other large entertainment destination, with previous attempts at enticing a developer to build one between the Los Angeles area and the greater San Francisco Bay area failing.
However, a renewed push by Six Flags in recent years has brought hope for a theme park in the county from idle speculation to becoming more and more of a sure thing. While still being largely vague about the issue, especially regarding identifying Six Flags as the interested party, many Fresno lawmakers have said that a theme park is becoming more likely.
“It’s a major theme park that’s very familiar with the state of California,” said Fresno City Council President Luis Chavez in a recent statement. “It will be an indoor water park, hotels, retail. There were conversations of outlets also being around the area as well,” says Chavez. “What I can tell you is they want that proximity to highway 99, 41, 168. And the City of Fresno has that, along with the infrastructure that we need. We know that we have the sewer, we have the water, and the long-term sustainability to really support an operation like that in the future.”
“We have met with developers at least six times recently. Very fruitful conversations, there’s already been some offers on the table. We have a lot of the conditions to make this project happen.”
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer also gave a media statement in recent weeks adding more details about the project and meeting with Los Angeles-based developer Robert Sonnenblick.
“The City Manager and I have had numerous meetings with Mr. Sonneblick over the past few months and taken several of his associates on a tour of our city,” noted Mayor Dyer. “We have discussed several entertainment development opportunities near the 99 freeway as well as downtown Fresno. Not only have we rolled out the red carpet for Mr. Sonneblick and those he represents, we have clearly demonstrated that Fresno is poised to serve as the entertainment hub for central California. Although I am prevented legally from discussing the details of the entertainment venue, it is safe to say it would attract millions of people annually to Fresno.”
A growing possibility of a theme park in Central California, located hours away from the nearest theme park, has been treated more and more warmly in recent months by Fresno County locals and industry experts alike.
“For a long time, the population just wasn’t there,” explained Ohio-based theme park industry analyst Roger Green to the Globe on Monday. “You have all these cities strung across Interstate 5 and Highway 99 going North. Not just Fresno, but Visalia, Stockton, Modesto, Clovis, and there is nothing centralized. There was nothing between two of California’s largest cities when it came to theme parks. But now Fresno County has had such a population boom, with many tired of having to drive down to LA on a three, three and a half hour journey. So this makes complete sense.”
“Cedar Point in Ohio is located in a small town called Sandusky, but still draws in millions a year thanks to being close to Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit, and having a lot of coasters as it’s claim to fame. You have several parks in the South in the middle of nowhere, but have special coasters or rides to bring people in. For a theme park in or around Fresno, you have that base population to work with, along with these surrounding cities. You just need a really good attraction or two to keep them coming, and maybe even bring people out of San Francisco or LA.”
The impact of a Fresno theme park
If built, the theme park or “entertainment venue” would have a large economic impact. Construction bidding websites have as shown a proposed “Six Flags Over Fresno” park spending $25-$50 million on pre-design work alone, with Sonnenblick saying that a total investment between theme parks, a hotel, and retail space would add up to around $300 million. Lawmakers have also pointed out that the project could bring many jobs to the area, with 3,000 during the initial phase, and 18,000 when the park and associated businesses come fully on-line.
The park would also be likely valuable politically.
“Look at what happened during COVID with parks nationwide,” added Green. “Specifically California. All of them were shut down for so long, into this year even. 13 months. You had furloughed employees becoming voting blocs and theme park trade groups making front page news. So that power is there.”
“More than that, theme parks are always focal points because there is just so much money behind them. A lot of people work there, and they are an economic driver. Even last month out there in California. Where was [Governor Gavin Newsom] when he officially reopened the state? He reopened the state at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It’s that big of an industry, where prominent politicians need to be that big of a part of. You can’t make them mad too long, because it really is that big of an industry.”
According to Chavez, a decision on the park is likely to come in the next 3 to 4 months. If accepted, a new theme park could take as much as two years to build until opening day.
“A theme park inaugural is also important politically speaking,” continued Green. “You get to look like Walt [Disney] for a fleeting moment, and that is gold.”
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