Houston's theme park fever has hit Cleveland.
At the monthly meeting of the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce Thursday, Chuck Hendrix and Ashley Higson of the Grand Texas Sports & Entertainment District gave a presentation to update area business leaders on their plans to develop a theme park, water park, shopping district and youth sports complex to 630 acres of forest north of New Caney at the intersection of Highway 59 and FM 242. All told, 296 people packed the room — for an event that was supposed to be limited to a capacity of 250.
As the folks feasted on a fajitas and enchilada lunch, Higson promised to provide them with the "most up to date information" about the state of the project before introducing Hendrix.
"We're not going to do to you nearly what the Mouse does."
The presentation began with an analysis of the area's demographics. Although the area north of Kingwood may seem remote to Inner Loopers, 350,000 people live within 15 miles of the complex, and almost 1.3 million live within 25 miles. Higson projects that 4.5 million people will visit the park annually by its fifth year. That compares to the just more than 600,000 who visit the Texas Renaissance Festival during its 17 days and the 2.2 million who visit the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo during its 21-day run.
The Grand Texas theme park will sit on 150 acres of the property, with 71 built out during the initial development. As CultureMap reported in November, the Grand Texas theme park will be divided into multiple sections. Grand Boardwalk will boost a Victorian feel, Pecos Territory will feature the wilder rides that include a total of five roller coasters, and Main Street will present a nostalgia-tinged version of Texas history.
Water Rides And More
In addition, the development will feature the Big Rivers Waterpark modeled after an 1800s fishing village, a minor league baseball stadium, an event center that includes an ice rink for a minor league hockey franchise, and the 450,000 square foot DownTown Texas shopping and entertainment district that Higson predicts will be "a true destination for families and visitors."
With that, she turned it over to Hendrix who introduced himself by saying "I tore down the Texas Cyclone. That was me." Then he quickly added, "I had a fiduciary duty to our shareholders."
As the crowd sat in rapt attention, Hendrix described his credentials and history with Six Flags and Innovative Leisure Partners. "For gated attractions in the Houston market, no one knows more about (the subject) than myself and my staff," he told the audience.
Hendrix said that once he made the decision to close AstroWorld he heard from people who had been there for first dates or had memories of going there with grandparents. "When we took down AstroWorld, it tore a little hole in the heart of this community . . . I started to realize how this place was ingrained into the heart of the community."
He soon resolved to bring a theme park back to Houston, because "this area deserves it."
Compared to other theme parks and even entertainment destinations like the Kemah Boardwalk, Hendrix said Grand Texas would be "more family inclusive . . . Every host and hostess will have gone through live show training." As for the price, he said it will be "an incredible value equation" compared to places like Disney World.
Grand Texas will be "the only park in the country where the transition areas are wooded."
"We're not going to do to you nearly what the Mouse does," Hendrix said. As for his own visit to Disney, he commented that "I'll never go again. The Mouse has had his way with me, and I'm done."
He earned applause when he promised that the park will be fully ADA compliant and that his staff would "bend over backwards" to accommodate children with special needs.
One way in which Hendrix thinks the complex will set itself as an entertainment destination is with a 90-acre Grand Texas Sportsplex that contains youth baseball, softball and soccer fields. He noted that his 14-year old son plays on a select baseball team and uses "a bat that cost more than my first used car." He thinks parents will appreciate being able to travel to a destination that has attractions for non-baseball playing siblings and compared the facility to the Old Settlers Park in Round Rock that draws more than a million visitors each year.
"We're creating the premier youth sports destination in the Southwest," Hendrix said. He envisions the park drawing visitors from Austin, Dallas and Louisiana.
In response to concerns about traffic, Hendrix said the company is already working with TXDOT to widen 242 and craft a "detailed traffic plan (that will) handle ingress and egress in a strategic fashion," which includes a pedestrian underpass for 242 to make the area more walkable. They're also "well down the road" of talking to ride manufacturers, including the Neuman Group for the water rides.
As for the environmental impact, Hendrix boasted that Grand Texas will be "the only park in the country where the transition areas are wooded." In addition, they have a plan to "enhance and beautify" Caney Creek where it runs through the park.