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Herschend closes Celebration City, explores options

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Branson theme park Celebration City will close out its season on Saturday and will not reopen in 2009, parent company Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. said today.

Herschend is studying various opportunities for the 110 acres on Highway 76's western edge, where Celebration City is located. Possible developments for what officials hope will be an "anchor destination" could include an aquarium, other family attractions, a re-themed version of Celebration City or retail and dining, according to spokeswoman Lisa Rau.

"(The park) did not meet our financial expectations," Rau said, adding that current economic conditions did play in to the final decision, although the company has been exploring new options for the park for some time. Celebration City opened in 2003 with a $40 million price tag, Springfield Business Journal reported at the time.

Rau said factors in the park's shortcomings included its scope - Celebration City only occupied half of the 110 acres, leaving a lot of unused land - and the way it operated, particularly the fact that it did not open until 3 p.m. daily.

"We also need to make sure what we build and what we do in the future meets priority goals of extending overnight visitation and bringing more people to the market," Rau said. "What we do will have those two priority goals in mind."

It's been a soft year for Branson tourism, and Herschend researcher Jerry Henry has told SBJ that he expects Branson visitation will finish 2008 about 5 percent below 2007 figures.

The company does not have a timeline in place for when it could make a decision on the property, Rau said. The park and its rides will stay intact in the meantime.

Celebration City's closure will eliminate 18 full-time positions, and Herschend will find new roles for most of those employees, Rau said. Another 250 seasonal employees will be given first opportunity to interview for an anticipated 400 open positions in 2009 at nearby Herschend attractions Silver Dollar City, White Water and Showboat Branson Belle. Herschend properties employ more than 2,000 year-round and seasonal workers.[[In-content Ad]]

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