If it gets built, will they come?

The X-factor is whether enough earthlings will visit a theme park about visitors from space.

Published May 31, 2007

Even his wife thought his Star Trek meets Field of Dreams idea was a little ... out there.

Two years ago, Bryan Temmer, a Land O'Lakes computer technician whose only experience with amusement parks was taking his kids to Disney World or Busch Gardens, came up with a concept for an extraterrestrial theme park at UFO central itself: Roswell, N.M.

That would be the same Roswell where a UFO purportedly crashed in 1947, triggering the so-called Roswell Incident. The place where the official city Web site includes council meeting minutes -- and a little green man shooting a ray gun.

Temmer's alien theme park -- a mix of thrill rides, stores, restaurants and educational exhibits -- easily could have been lost in the idea graveyard if not for one thing.

The New Mexico Legislature recently appropriated $245,000 to the city of Roswell for the park's initial planning. The project also has the support of New Mexico's governor and the state Department of Tourism.

Alien Apex Resort, a proposed 80- to 150-acre park, could cost several hundred million dollars to build. The goal is to open as early as 2010. The city will provide at least some of the land, but the park would be privately built and managed. Requests for proposals will be advertised next month.

"I hope we have large investors," said Temmer, 39.

City officials say at least four major corporations are interested in the project, although they won't name them. Roswell, already home to the annual UFO Festival and the International UFO Museum and Research Center, is all abuzz about the proposed coming attraction.

But Houston, we could have a problem.

Located in southeastern New Mexico, Roswell has a population of about 50,000 and is 200 miles from the nearest large cities: Albuquerque, Amarillo, El Paso and Lubbock.

The major population centers of Dallas 451 miles, Denver (545 miles) and Phoenix (560 miles) are more than twice as far away, potentially a major stumbling block at a time when gas prices are at record highs.

The "If you build it they will come" notion applies only if there are millions of people within easy driving distance, said Dennis Spiegel, president of Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services.

And it doesn't help that the theme park industry has already reached its saturation point, he added.

"There is absolutely no way a project of that nature could work," Spiegel said of Alien Apex. "They would have to have over 2-million people a year come to the area to support it, and there just aren't that many people.

"The core population is your bread and butter, and even with all the people interested in aliens, they won't come from those outer markets. The propensity to visit a theme park declines the further away you get from the site."

Siegel used the example of Land of Oz, a proposed $300-million theme park outside Kansas City, Kan. A group trying to build it got hundreds of thousands of dollars for feasibility studies from the Kansas Legislature after Siegel advised against it.

In the end, the Land of Oz never materialized.

"Because of the same reason," Siegel said. "Not enough population."

But Temmer is determined. A Brooklyn-born science fiction buff and roller coaster enthusiast, he has met with theme park experts in Orlando and enlisted the help of Dr. Kevin Boberg, dean of New Mexico State University's College of Business.

"Everybody thought I was a little strange," Temmer said. "They weren't surprised I thought of this. They were more surprised it's gotten this far.

"And I'd probably think the same thing. I've got no experience building a theme park. But it's happening."

Zach Montgomery, Roswell's city planning director, said this is the fourth time in the last 15 years that someone has proposed an alien theme park in the city. The previous ideas never took, he said, because the city was asked to take on too much of the financial responsibility.

Temmer's plan, he said, wouldn't do that.

As for the population question, Montgomery said look no further than Orlando, where in the late 1960s Walt Disney envisioned a theme park in the middle of orange groves and swamp land.

"Everyone thought he (Disney) was nuts," Montgomery said, "and look what happened. And he faced challenges far greater than what we have. We don't see population as a major issue."

A statement on the theme park's Web site (www.alienapexresort.com) may have put it best:

"The park will welcome skeptics, hard core believers, and anyone who wants to have a great time."

Tom Zucco can be reached at (727) 893-8247 or zucco@sptimes.com.