Planned Williams theme park district clears hurdle

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An architectural rendering of the Arizona State Railroad Museum. By Jennifer Thomas An architectural rendering of the Arizona State Railroad Museum. By Jennifer Thomas
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

 FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- A long-in-the-works plan for a theme park in the northern Arizona community of Williams has cleared a major hurdle.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to authorize creation of a special district that would have taxation powers to back up its financing,

the Arizona Daily Sun reported

.

The theme park would be built on a 475-acre parcel on the city's northern edge and a 21-acre downtown site would be used for an Arizona railroad museum. All properties in the special district also will be exempt from property taxes.

The Board of Supervisors had long balked at approving the district's creation, but it gained support among supervisors when the authorization was changed to release the county from any liability or responsibility for the district's actions.

Supervisors said creating the district allows Williams to pursue an economic-development goal.

Williams has been slowly building itself up as a tourism destination with the Bearizona wildlife park, the Grand Canyon Railway and now this, Supervisor Liz Archuleta said.

"I see this as a natural progression toward creating a theme park destination," she said.

Supervisor Art Babbott still opposed creating the district, saying he opposed granting the narrowly focused property tax exemptions.

Williams officials first approached the county Board of Supervisors about creating a special district to help finance and oversee the theme park in the mid-2000s.

City Manager Brandon Buchanan said developers involved in the project early on are no longer involved.

The new setup for the special district puts more control in the hands of a district board, which will own the land and negotiate with developers on various projects, he said.

The district could issue up to $1 billion in bonds to finance the project, would retain ownership and would have the ability to impose a user tax of up to 9 percent on sales and income within the district to pay back the financing.

The bonds would be obligations of the district itself and not of the county.

Cost estimates range from $185 million to $500 million.

Buchanan said water supply, fire protection, housing and law enforcement still must be addressed.

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