Plans for $750 million theme park in north Georgia 'on hold'

EMERSON, Ga. (AP) — Almost a year after a groundbreaking that never happened, Avatron Smart Park, a $750-million technology-centered theme park planned to be built in Emerson announced Monday that it is shutting down.

"After some 24 months of extensive planning and project fundraising, and despite near completion of Phase 1 project components, the AVATRON Park project is closing its doors," said David Garrett III, CEO of Avatron USA Development LLC in an open letter to Bartow County.

"Because of your tremendous and unwavering support of all things AVATRON, we pause to share with you the rationale for shutting down a project so near and dear to me and our team as well as Georgia and Bartow County residents," the letter states.

Garrett appeared before the Emerson City Council in May, 2015 to announce Avatron's intention to develop a 712-acre park near Paga Mine Road called Avatron Smart Park featuring a "totally immersive, technology-driven theme park drawing on the expertise of Hollywood's leading visual effects professionals."

Plans for the massive development included a 200-acre theme park; two hotels; a 300,000-square-foot retail center; and a 10,000-square-foot amphitheater. The park was scheduled to open in January 2019.

"The project we are proposing," Garrett said, "will include 3D videos, 4D motion capture, sensory technologies, holograms and augmented reality. Upon entering the park, visitors will be able to undergo a scan process that allows them to create digital renderings of themselves.

"If guests choose to, they will be able to have a full body scan and then they would create their own avatar and they would be able to actually be a part of the attraction itself."

Garrett told the council that he expected the park to create as many as 1,200 jobs during the construction phase and as many as 2,000 more from support industries like hotels and restaurants. Because the park was to be so high tech, Garrett said many jobs would pay $50,000 a year and higher.

"The project is fairly far along as far as planning," Garrett said. " We did an extensive search looking for where this thing might best be, and Bartow and the city of Emerson met a lot of that criteria. We think Bartow is a great location. First there is the I-75 corridor, the proximity to LakePoint Sporting Community & Town Center; and it's near Atlanta and there was property available."

Not long after the initial announcement, a news release by California-based Lionsgate Productions announced they would license the "Hunger Games," ''Step Up" and "Now You See Me" film franchises for attractions within the park.

"Hunger Games," mostly filmed in Georgia, and the best known of the three franchises, told the story of a rebellion in the post-apocalyptic society of Panem. "Step Up" was a story about street dancers, while "Now You See Me" told the story of illusionists that perform daring heists.

The first signs of trouble arose last January when the scheduled groundbreaking came and went. Avatron said the financing still was not finalized and the land transaction had not closed.

On Monday afternoon, in a press release sent exclusively to the Daily Tribune News, Garrett said the project was shutting down, although he left that door slightly ajar.

"With the anticipation of being just a few days away from a final finance completion announcement," Garrett wrote. "One of our key partners had to suspend its participation. While many would encourage us to look at this as simply a timing situation, we are of the shared belief that no more time can be given or pushed back. Therefore, the AVATRON project is being placed on hold indefinitely."

"As we walk away from such an incredible concept and proposed entertainment experience like no other, we are filled with gratitude for the overwhelming support and hospitality you've provided at every step of the way. The leadership in Bartow County and Georgia did everything possible to aid our efforts and we grew to treasure all that is so special about this wonderful community.

"If this is goodbye, we thank you one last time for your generosity and belief in AVATRON. If this is a "not-yet" situation, then we thank you for your patience and understanding.

"Either way, our time here was a positive and memorable experience that is marked with new friendships and the exhilaration of pushing the boundaries of our imaginations - much like the experience we had envisioned for each of our future guests."

Emerson Mayor Al Pallone said the loss of the park was a great disappointment.

"We were really excited about having such a great addition to our community," he said. "But that's the way these things sometime work out."

Pallone said the infrastructure improvements the city had been making, especially the expanded wastewater treatment facility, wouldn't be affected by the announcement.

"Our infrastructure plans are driven by LakePoint," he said. "Now the long-term economic impact will be much different. We were looking at a couple of 5-star hotels and the revenue the city would take in from the hotel taxes, but we will still gain a lot of revenue from the other hotels and restaurants springing up around LakePoint."

Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor shared Pallone's disappointment.

"While I am deeply disappointed that Avatron is not coming to Bartow County," Taylor said. "I am still excited about all the good things happening in the south part of the county. This is a missed opportunity that would have been a tremendous asset to our county, but there are other projects that are looking to locate here."

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Information from: The Daily Tribune News, http://www.daily-tribune.com/

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