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Stewart Hopes Wild Escape Earth Work Can Begin in Summer

February 23, 2011

WHEELING - Ohio County Administrator Greg Stewart hopes earth work for the proposed Wild Escape Theme Park can begin this summer.

Stewart told Ohio County Development Authority members in January that he hoped ground would be broken on the project sometime this year. But if for some reason Wild Escape doesn't come to fruition, the county would still pursue a similar project, he said.

"If it doesn't happen, we'll still have a destination. We'll keep trying to do something out there," Stewart said in reference to the west end of The Highlands, where Wild Escape currently has been proposed.

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"We'll continue to work on that area of the development. We're going to keep on trying - nothing ventured, nothing gained."

The theme park's developer, Steve Minard, compared working out the details of a theme park to "planning a small city."

"We're heavy in the details game at this point. ... There are so many parties involved ... We would love to begin in that timeframe, but we want to do it right and do it right the first time," Minard said.

Fact Box

Will the Wild Escape Theme Park at The Highlands ever become a reality?

Even though it's been nearly five years since the project's announcement, ground has yet to be broken on the proposed theme park. Ohio County officials remain hopeful the project will begin at some point this year, but said they are ready to move forward with other plans if Wild Escape doesn't happen.

Stewart noted there are some people who "pick on" the county for not having the theme park built, but that doesn't mean officials aren't still trying.

"Sometimes being in our position, you get a little frustrated. You're trying to bring the right things to the community and sometimes ... you feel like you get smacked over the head even for trying," he said. "When you're in here putting your neck on the line trying to get some things done ... it gets hard sometimes after you get kicked in the head for awhile.

"We'll keep trying if somehow (Wild Escape) doesn't work out. Who knows what that might be - it might be portions of it or something completely different."

In 2006, county officials and Minard announced their plan to build the park. After waiting to get related environmental permits approved, it would appear nothing was stopping the project from getting started.

But then the economy tanked. And Stewart said the souring of the economy not only slowed the pace of development at The Highlands in general, but also slowed the county's willingness to start work on the theme park.

"The economy since the fall of 2008; when the stock market fell; massive changes in the banking industry; some national retail tenants closing - a lot of those factors brought progress we had up until that point to a slowdown. We've still had good tenant activity, but things aren't happening at the same pace they had prior to 2008," Stewart said.

County officials did not want to build the theme park and then have it falter because of the recession, he said.

"It's something we hope to see happen this year. We're working out the details on that. We're still in discussion with those folks. ... We don't want to force it. We want it to be successful," Stewart said.

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