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FunTime USA could open in the spring

A Statue of Liberty replica will welcome visitors at the entrance of FunTime USA in Gulfport.
A Statue of Liberty replica will welcome visitors at the entrance of FunTime USA in Gulfport.

Groundbreaking at FunTime USA in Gulfport is planned for October and the first rides at the amusement park could be ready to whirl by early spring — if the family that operated the park until Hurricane Katrina destroyed it can get the support of the community to help reopen.

The plan is to start with the rides and attractions people remember from the old park — the miniature golf course, go-carts, bumper boats and a merry-go-round — along with a new Pepsi Pavilion. The rides would open in phases beginning the first nice weekend after Groundhog Day, envisions Rafe O’Neal, whose family operated FunTime USA for 27 years before Katrina hit in 2005.

By Memorial Day, the family hopes to have the park completely open at U.S. 90 and Cowan Road and they expect more than 150,000 visitors in their first year.

To do that, they are looking for an equity partner to fund up to $1.1 million to build the initial phase of the park. They also have campaigns to sponsor the Tilt-A-Whirl or one of the other rides, a hole on the putt-putt golf course or to adopt and name a horse on the Allan Herschell merry-go-round that operated at the original park from 1980 until 2005.

For companies and investors, “it’s an opportunity to have a marketing presence at FunTime USA on the beach in Gulfport,” said Dennis Tynes, president of Sprout CDE.

Tynes has worked for two years to help Gulf Amusements get funding for the park. His agency is certified by the U.S. Treasury Department to raise for money for projects that will create jobs.

“My job is to create jobs,” he said, “and FunTime is creating 50 jobs.”

Allen Beverages has signed on to sponsor the Pepsi Pavilion, which O’Neal said will be the social hub of the park.

For people who spent their childhoods at FunTime, the Adopt-a-Horse program can be a way to memorialize the parents and grandparents who took them to the park and to give their children the same memories, O’Neal said. The name the donor chooses for the carousel horse will be permanently on display for everyone who rides it to see.

The Golden Ticket is another way families can help finance the park. For $1,000, Golden Ticket holders will get park admission for two adults and two kids every day for 10 years.

The park will have the retro look of the original FunTime USA but with new technology and experiences, O’Neal said. His uncle, Ray O’Neal, is working on the designs of the new park, which will have a Statue of Liberty replica standing at the main entrance and a Humpty Dumpty replica and the octopus from the original park gracing the mini-golf course.

With its retro look and feel, “it will be a great place for Cruisin’ The Coast to do an event,” Rafe O’Neal said.

For the new park, they also plan celebrations for Halloween and Christmas and a food truck court. Before, people were happy with carnival food, he said.

“People want more today,” he said.

For information on sponsorships at FunTime USA, visit funtimeusagulfport.com or call 228-323-5217.

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