As Mayor Sylvester Turner concludes his tenure, Houstonians find themselves still dreaming of the return of a theme park, a vision once championed by the outgoing mayor. While the dream may seem elusive for now, industry experts and residents believe that it’s only a matter of time before Houston welcomes back the thrill of roller coasters and magical attractions.
The haunting memories of Astroworld, closed nearly two decades ago, linger in the minds of Houstonians. The Texas Cyclone, Greezed Lightnin’, and Excalibur were more than just names—they were sources of laughter, screams, and tears. Todd Nelkin, an Astroworld collector, reflects on the void left by the closure, stating, “I still see ghosts when I drive by.” The demise of Astroworld, often likened to Houston’s own Kennedy assassination, left many speculating on the reasons behind its closure, ranging from crime to increased property values.
Houstonians express their longing for a theme park, lamenting the absence of a local destination for family fun. The desire to avoid lengthy drives to Dallas or San Antonio for theme park experiences is a sentiment echoed by parents like Ryan Russell and Kelly Duhon. The prospect of a new theme park gained traction when Mayor Turner announced plans during a Travis Scott concert, sparking hopes for a revived amusement park experience in the city.
Investigations reveal that Houston came close to securing a new theme park, with potential developers expressing interest. Emails obtained by 13 Investigates shed light on discussions between the city and Herschend, a company considering a billion-dollar project with a $300-500 million investment. Despite initial enthusiasm, the project did not materialize, leaving Houston without a theme park.
Christopher Penney, an associate professor with expertise in theme parks, expresses surprise that Houston, the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a theme park, has yet to secure one. Recent developments in neighboring states, such as the announcement of a $2 billion theme park in Oklahoma and a Universal Studios-type park in the Dallas area, underscore the growing demand for such attractions.
Penney suggests that Houston may need to offer incentives to attract a major theme park, likening the process to luring a major sports franchise. The potential economic impact, similar to the tourism dollars brought in by the Houston Texans, could make the endeavor financially viable for the city.
In response to inquiries, Mayor Turner’s office cited the challenges posed by the pandemic, diverting attention to health and safety priorities. While the mayor’s administration continued discussions with potential investors, the theme park idea remains on the table for the future.
As Houston looks to the future, mayoral candidates share their perspectives on the importance of a theme park. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee emphasizes the significance of a theme park in contributing to the city’s greatness. Other candidates, including John Whitmire, Gilbert Garcia, MJ Khan, Dr. Jackie Christie, and Lee Kaplan, express varying degrees of support for the idea, recognizing the potential cultural and economic benefits.
While Houstonians continue to wait for the return of a theme park, the collective hope remains that the city’s skyline will one day feature the towering structures of a new amusement destination.