Another wild ride? Theme park ventures: Toymaker Lego considering airport area for amusement complex.

April 25, 1996

REPORTS THAT suggest 1,000 acres near Baltimore-Washington International Airport are being scrutinized as a future theme park site should not be surprising. Perhaps more eye-opening is the fact that so few successful amusement parks lie in the densely populated Northeast corridor, particularly in the 200-plus miles between Hershey Park in Central Pennsylvania and Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion in Tidewater Virginia.

For Denmark-based Lego Group, Anne Arundel County represents a return trip. It surveyed this area several years ago before deciding to build its first U.S. toyland between Los Angeles and San Diego. The maker of stackable plastic toy elements says that if it decides to build on the East Coast, its new park would not open until after the year 2000. The company currently operates three parks worldwide.

Each features trains and boats that look as if fashioned from Lego pieces. In California, visitors travel through Lego likenesses of historic sites such as Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. The company's two parks in Europe -- one in Denmark, the other in England -- feature locally familiar historical and story-book landmarks and themes. Additionally, each park has a horn of plenty of eateries and gift shops, each promoting Lego products, of course.

Although the company is tight-lipped about its current exploration, it is certainly looking at other locales beyond BWI. In fact, three years ago when it decided to go West, the runner-up site was in Prince William County, Va. That was about the time Walt Disney Co. dropped controversial plans to develop a history park there.

Since the development of the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore area has toyed with attracting a major theme park. Having failed to entice Disney itself, Baltimore settled for the Six Flags organization. However, an indoor "urban" amusement park inside an old power plant flopped. Plans for an Asian-themed park and trade center in Baltimore County also floundered.

No theme park is an assured success. Various concepts tried over the years near Largo, in Prince George's County, illustrate that. But with its population base, disposable incomes and family-rich demographics, a Baltimore-Washington location remains a brass ring for theme park operators to snag.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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