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Tue, Oct. 20

Three endorse AZ Territory<br>

Jim Fisher, middle, and investment banker/future park CEO Richard Hender-son, right, explain the park during a question-and-answer period at a special board of directors meeting for the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce, Williams Economic Development Committee, and Williams Main Street Association on April 14. After the questions, all three groups voted in favor of sending a letter of endorsement for the park to city council.

Jim Fisher, middle, and investment banker/future park CEO Richard Henderson, right, explain the park during a question-and-answer period at a special board of directors meeting for the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce, Williams Economic Development Committee, and Williams Main Street Association on April 14. After the questions, all three groups voted in favor of sending a letter of endorsement for the park to city council.

The meeting began with an overview by Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Donna Cochran of the responses from a chamber survey sent out to its 436 members asking two questions about the project:

• Do you feel that this project will have a positive economic impact on the community?

• With the understanding that certificates of occupancy for hotel rooms would be contingent on the completion of the interactive park facility at the same time, do you encourage the council to vote yes on this project with 200-300 rooms in Phase 1?

The survey came as a result of the park’s investors asking for 600 hotel rooms in phase one even though park developer/front man Jim Fisher had agreed to no hotel rooms in the first phase as part of a pre-development agreement. According to Fisher, the investors felt the project would not be feasible without the rooms. Council sent the investors’ findings to Ron Evans, Dean of Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, who came back with a smaller number of 200-300 rooms.

The questionnaire was mailed out on April 6, and as of April 14, 22 percent returned the survey with answers. On question one, 76 percent said yes, while only 17 percent said no. For question two, 62 percent said yes and 31 percent said no. The undecided ranked in at nine percent.

“As leaders in the community, it is very important to know where we stand,” Cochran stated.

After that, a question-and-answer period gave both board members and other attendees the opportunity to scrutinize two of the project’s main players in person — developer/front man Jim Fisher and investment banker/former business owner Richard Henderson, who will act as the park’s Chief Executive Officer once operations begin.

One of the first questions fired — also the number one comment on the returned surveys — was how will the park be supplied with water.

Henderson answered quickly simply stating that the park will drill its own well(s). If that fails, project designers are prepared to haul water in via either truck or rail.

Bob Kelley, owner of the Grand Motel in Williams, brought up a valid issue regarding the livelihood of Williams’ lodging businesses. He asked if the 200-300 initial hotel rooms would be closed in the winter, citing that if not, they would compete with hotels in Williams, which commonly struggle for business in the off season.

Henderson answered, saying that though the theme park section will close for winter months, the park has the room for, and plans to schedule special events during those times to keep traffic flowing through.

“Our season of 208 days obviously means that we’re going to have to be going year-round, going full season — May, June, July, August, September, October,” Fisher said. “Those are operations everyday. To get beyond that, we’re going to have special events, we’re going to have various activities. We’ll obviously capitalize on every type of a weekend attraction we can have because we’re going to want to attract the Phoenix crowd and the Las Vegas crowd.”

Henderson added to Fisher’s response by predicting that “other things will happen” as a result of the theme park that will help to keep occupancy steady during the winter. As far as actually opening or closing rooms, Henderson said that would be up to the hotels themselves, as lodging operations will be handled by the hotel company(s) rather than park executives.

In a related question, The Canyon Motel’s Kevin Young asked who would regulate the quality of the lodging establishments. His concern was that despite the hotel(s) initially being three-star or above, they might lower their rating during the off season in efforts to offer cheaper prices for better occupancy. Doing so would, again, directly compete with Williams’ smaller, privately owned lodging facilities.

Henderson responded by saying, “Yes, we will be controlling that.”

Fisher and his partners remain highly optimistic about the park and its effect on Williams, projecting first-year numbers as high as 639,000 visitors, but one meeting attendee — Old West Main Street’s Mike DuCharme — raised a suspicious eyebrow at those projections.

“My background is architectural. I work with large firms worldwide, both in banking, construction, and development,” DuCharme began. “I’m listening to these guys talk, and — I’m sorry — what they’re saying just doesn’t hold water.”

DuCharme said that he’s all for the theme park if it can hold its own, but complained that Fisher and his partners couldn’t make that a guarantee, and that they’ve already tried to change some of the parameters by asking for rooms.

“What these guys are in, no matter what they say, is the restaurant and motel business. If you guys want to cut to the chase and save Mr. Fisher a lot of money, what you should do for him is tell him, ‘Look, we don’t need the theme park, let’s just get your motel and restaurant operation rolling.’ I guarantee you that Old West Main Street will affect everybody in this room — will affect them financially and every other way — and it will affect Williams as a whole. These guys can’t do that.”

According to both Fisher and Henderson, the park’s investors have accepted the results of the NAU study and are comfortable with its findings.

Once the question and answer period concluded, votes were cast by all three entities — the chamber of commerce, the economic development committee, and Main Street — in favor of sending a letter to city council recommending that requested zoning changes for the park be granted.

Towards the end, it was also revealed that Fisher and Henderson had officially joined the chamber of commerce earlier that day.

After a special town hall meeting regarding the theme park project in the Williams Elementary-Middle School auditorium at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow, the city council will convene for a regular session at the same location. On the agenda will be the decision whether or not to grant the aforementioned zoning changes.

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