post New Life for Old Tucson

January 13th, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 3:33 pm

The company that runs the Old Tucson theme park is setting up a nonprofit foundation to take over the lease, and eventually the operations, of the park.

The newly established Arizona Sonora Western Heritage Foundation is in discussions with Pima County to take over the lease for the park within the next six months, said Old Tucson Co. CEO Pete Mangelsdorf.

The foundation will help the park move toward an educational mission, a move the park hopes will make it more financially sustainable.

Moving to a nonprofit-foundation model also lets the park pay a lower rate to lease the county property, and it lets the park apply for federal grants and solicit private donations. The nonprofit status of the group is pending IRS approval.

This week Old Tucson announced plans to “expand Old Tucson into a multicultural Western heritage center.”

The main attractions will be interactive living-history programs, the announcement states.

The park began offering living-history programs three years ago and has expanded to seven programs, five of which are available each day, Mangelsdorf said.

The programs mix lessons and laughs about life in 1880s Arizona and feature characters including a rough-and-rowdy sheriff, a gold prospector and a schoolmarm.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive from our guests,” Mangelsdorf said.

The park would feature interactive exhibits, entertainment, food and crafts from the various cultures, including Native American, Mexican, Spanish, Anglo, African, Asian, Mormon and Jewish, the park’s announcement said.

It’s an exciting concept because Western heritage and culture always has been a part of the park, Moulton said, but the new plan would create a visitor experience in true history rather than in Hollywood movies.

Attendance at Old Tucson Studios fell sharply after an arson fire in 1995 destroyed about 60 percent of its buildings, wardrobes and movie memorabilia.

The park was rebuilt and reopened in 1997, but attendance dropped again in the nationwide tourism decline after 2001.

Park attendance was about 190,000 last year, but it is expected to increase by up to 70,000 visitors at the end of a five- to 10-year plan to expand the park, Mangelsdorf said.

The foundation is using the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as a model for its business side and Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg as a model for its programming, he said.

The foundation, which plans to hire a development director in the next few months, also is establishing relationships with the University of Arizona and the Arizona Historical Society.

Historical re-enactment groups said they are excited about the possibility of a new venue and said demand for such programming is healthy.

“The public is thirsty for reaching back in time and connecting and learning about the past,” saidRandy Madsen, a member of the Pima County Historical Commission and an organizer of the Tucson Mormon Heritage Festival.

Re-enactments help people appreciate and understand different cultural histories, he said. He became interested in 1840s history because an ancestor served in Kearny’s Army of the West, Mormon Battalion, which marched through Tucson on its way from Iowa to California. Madsen now participates in re-enactments.


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