For Gulf Coast thrill seekers, theme park to open this summer

A new theme park coming to Alabama’s Gulf Coast hopes to fill a void left by Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of Six Flags New Orleans more than a decade ago.

The Owa theme park, about 45 minutes southeast of Mobile, is set to open this summer. It will feature 20 rides as part of a $500-million complex built by a local Native American tribe.

The 14-acre site will be the biggest amusement park in Alabama and the only nearby option for serious thrill seekers in a four-state area.

Operators hope residents in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama will view Owa as an alternative to bigger theme parks in the region: Dixie Landin’ in Baton Rouge, La.; Wild Adventures in Valdosta, Ga.; and Six Flags Over Georgia outside Atlanta.

Owa is also positioning itself as a budget alternative to the pricier Disney and Universal parks in Orlando, Fla..

Since the loss of Six Flags New Orleans in 2005, theme park buffs in the region have been left with tiny beach-side amusement and water parks along the Gulf of Mexico.

Italy-based Zamperla will provide all the rides for Owa park, including three roller coasters.

The marque Rollin’ Thunder coaster will be a clone of the Thunderbolt at New York’s Coney Island. The 125-foot-tall looping steel coaster will feature a 110-foot vertical lift and four inversions, including a dive loop, a corkscrew and a heart-line roll.

The other two coasters: A wild mouse ride with spinning cars and an oval kiddie one with a mid-course helix.

The collection of thrill rides includes:

▪ Disk’O half-pipe ride

▪ Air Race airplane ride, which simulates an acrobatic air show

▪ Discovery pendulum swing, with outward-facing seats and a rotating gondola

▪ Enterprise-style ride attached to a tilting arm with swinging gondola seats

▪ a 125-foot tall swing tower

More family-oriented rides include:

▪ 40-foot-tall hot air balloon tower ride

▪ Wave Swing carousel

▪ Rockin’ Tug half-pipe ride

▪ Kiddie drop tower

▪ Teacups

▪ Autopia-style big-rig truck driving course; and

▪ 5 Dumbo-style spinning flat rides (Aerozoom, Magic Bikes, Flying Tigers, Jump Around and Mini Jet)

Zamperla is a company that creates most of the rides at parks in Italy, Germany, Guatemala, Iraq and North Korea as well as at Luna Park at New York’s Coney Island. Unlike Luna Park, Zamperla will not use Owa as a proving ground for new rides.

Owa will be located about 10 miles from the gulf in Foley. The property was originally developed as the Blue Collar Country theme park by the comedy team of Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy.

When the $200-million project fell through, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians stepped in to take over the development. The 520-acre complex will include a shopping center, hotels and a youth sports complex. Future expansion also calls for a water park, condominiums and an RV park.

Owa will be built around a 14-acre lake and themed to a small Southern town with a downtown area and warehouse district. Owa means “big water” in the tribal language.

Editor’s note: The original LA Times story said the park would open May 17. A spokesperson with Owa has told the Sun Herald that date is incorrect and the opening is set for sometime in the summer.