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Theme Park Developer Seeks More Local Cooperation

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – A Kentucky based company says it is still very interested in Niagara Falls, New York as one of three potential sites for a Wizard of Oz theme Park. But the company president says he is not convinced everyone locally is on the same page.

One month ago, Oz Central told WBFO News Niagara Falls made it to the short list of cities for a possible indoor Oz theme park. Since then, Oz Central President Richard Burch held informal meetings with local leaders.

But what he experienced is something that a long-line of past developers have encountered in the region -- a lack of quick answers for economic development questions. Burch says he met across the border with Canadian officials and received instant information.

"We were given all the answers to the questions we needed," Burch said. "Basically, in an hour and a half, we had everything we needed. We spent 40 hours in Niagara Falls, New York and we still don't have any answers."

Burch says he was also concerned about one organization's lack of participation in his recent meeting with local leaders. That meeting included Falls Mayor Irene Elia and state Senators George Maziarz and Byron Brown. Burch says he was told Niagara USA, the city's chamber of commerce, would be a key player, but the organization did not send a representative.

"They've asked for a lot information prior to meeting with us," Burch said. "And at this point, it is impossible for us to provide the information they are asking for. It is sort of a chicken and egg scenario."

Chamber President Robert Newman says his organization does not endorse projects. He says instead, the chamber's role is to "break down the barriers to economic development."

"The best thing for us is to make sure we have an economic development friendly climate and process for people when they do come to town," Newman said. "We want it to be an easy and business friendly process."

Newman says he was unaware of Burch's roadblock and will work to reach out to him.

Oz Central is asking for public and private sector funds to pay for a $225,000 feasibility study. It also needs demographics and tourism statistics, an actual site to build and what he calls a "star bond" to help finance the project.

Burch says they will make their site decision by the end the year. He says for now, it is up to the community to rally around this project to make it a reality.