Casino Gambling

Six Flags-style park planned for South Alabama; where’s ours?

Horses from the original Allan Herschell carousel at FunTime USA have been stored since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and are ready to prance again at the amusement park, which is planning a comeback at U.S. 90 and Cowan Road in Gulfport. Rafe O’Neal, whose family operated the park for 27 years, is trying to raise money to rebuild.
Horses from the original Allan Herschell carousel at FunTime USA have been stored since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and are ready to prance again at the amusement park, which is planning a comeback at U.S. 90 and Cowan Road in Gulfport. Rafe O’Neal, whose family operated the park for 27 years, is trying to raise money to rebuild. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

The mayor of Foley, Alabama, says the Poarch Band of Creek Indians want to build an amusement park that will be a cross between Six Flags and Disney World in the town just north of the state’s sugar-white beaches, even though some people would prefer a casino.

Meanwhile, the Poarch Creek tribe has a casino site in D’Iberville, where they said in March after the property purchase that they will “continue to evaluate development opportunities and the Mississippi Gulf Coast gaming market is one we may seek to enter at some future time.”

The Coast lost its favorite amusement park, FunTime USA, to Hurricane Katrina. A member of the FunTime family, Rafe O’Neal, is trying to raise the money to rebuild by spring, but whether he’ll make it remains to be seen.

Foley Mayor John Konair told al.com that the proposed amusement park could feature one of the largest roller coasters in the Southeast and 20 other rides.

“They wanted it a little more upscale than Six Flags,” Koniar was quoted as saying. “They want a lot more green space and landscaping. It’s not just concrete and rides. It will be softer and they tend to lean toward the Disney side of it . . . they are looking at higher-end amusement.”

The Poarch Creeks aren’t talking. Michael Cavanaugh, their attorney in Biloxi, said he has no update to offer on the D’Iberville property, which the tribe said they considered a good investment, on the west side of Interstate 110, whether it’s developed immediately or not.

The tribe operates one casino in Atmore, Alabama, and two in Montgomery, but the land in Foley is not federal Indian land where a gambling hall would be allowed.

In the Alabama article, officials agreed a theme park would be a welcome addition to Foley, a tourist destination where the beach is only nine miles away.

FunTime’s property in Gulfport sits across from the beach on U.S. 90. Generations of Coast residents have fond memories of their visits and have been looking forward to the park’s return since O’Neal first announced one year ago that he was trying to bring it back.

First, he had trouble with zoning, but those issues have been resolved. O’Neal has said he needs to raise $1.1 million to rebuild. The family still has the original Alan Herschell merry-go-round horses salvaged after the hurricane and the iconic Humpty Dumpty that sat at the entrance.

The O’Neals don’t have plans for a big roller coaster, but do want to bring back popular attractions such as the merry-go-round, Tilt-a-Whirl, miniature golf course, bumper boats and go-carts. The owners have been selling sponsorships and Golden Tickets — season passes good for four guests for 10 years — as fundraisers, but they also are working with Sprout CDE, an agency federally certified to raise funds for projects that will create jobs.

So who do you think will get an amusement park out of the ground first — the O’Neals or the Poarch Creeks?

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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