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Theme park rumor nothing but fantasy

Thanksgiving traditions are to be set aside this year. No large meal. No football on television. We will travel, but not to a relative's house for turkey and trimmings.

At least that is the plan as this is being written. We will head to the Orlando area for a theme park visit. Yes, the lyrics to It's a Small World will be replacing Over the River and Through the Woods. Hardly a fair trade.

The 80-odd mile trip eastward also should help illustrate another truth that some members of the public are certainly slow to grasp. There is no theme park in Pasco or Hernando and one isn't planned. Not in Bayonet Point. Not in Aripeka. Not at Interstate 75.

Times staff writer Jodie Tillman debunked this rumor in a story published Aug. 30. The chatter, however, refuses to quiet down.

Several days ago, I picked up a ringing telephone in the Port Richey newsroom, only to be greeted by a breathless woman who said that Six Flags is coming. Specifically, she said, it would come to the site already discounted by Tillman's story — west of the U.S. 19 and State Road 52 intersection in Bayonet Point.

The caller was insistent. She had it from a reliable authority. Her source, whom she declined to identify, told her Sen. Mike Fasano and Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher already knew about it, but they had been told to be hush-hush until the real estate transaction closed.

Gallagher and Fasano keeping quiet about economic development? Hard to believe. In fact, don't believe it. Your own sixth flag should be red and it should be raised in skepticism.

"If anything of that magnitude was coming, and if I knew and John Gallagher knew, we would have been bragging about and I'd be up in Tallahassee trying to get any assistance for them that I could,'' said Fasano.

The rumor, he acknowledged, just won't go away. He heard it numerous times during his recently completed re-election campaign.

It has been circulating for years with Hernando County the presumed location in a 2004 incarnation. It was debunked then, too.

Internet message boards visited by theme park patrons help keep the dialogue going. One recent thread started because a 14-year-old boy said his uncle told him Six Flags already was clearing land for its west Pasco theme park. Instead of typing on a keyboard, the teenager would be better served by keeping his eyes peeled during a drive down U.S. 19.

Two weeks ago, Fasano and Gallagher addressed a meeting of the Suncoast Bingo Council. A question from the floor included — you guessed it — an inquiry about Six Flags.

Gallagher did his best to quash the rumor, pointing to the multimillion-dollar expense of highway and infrastructure improvements that would be required and, Fasano said, noting the talked about Bayonet Point site makes little sense because of its distance from Interstate 75 and the Suncoast Parkway.

There is plenty of other evidence to consider if someone wanted to check beyond their uncle's say-so. For starters, Six Flags was unable to reopen its theme park in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Why would it seek to build another park in a coastal high-hazard flood zone between U.S. 19 and the Gulf of Mexico?

Consider attendance has been so moribund at smaller parks that Cypress Gardens closed temporarily and is divesting itself of its amusement rides. Or perhaps rumormongers could take note that the supposed site in west Pasco is too small to accommodate a theme park and it abuts a 3,600-acre state park preservation, which would preclude a westward expansion.

If Six Flags is coming, ''it's the best-kept secret because nobody knows about it,'' said Fasano. Or, it just might be the worst-kept secret since everybody seems to know somebody who heard from their uncle that it's happening.

So, today, as you savor your turkey breast meat, stuffing with sausage, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, please feel free to overindulge. Eat until you can eat no more.

The last thing you need to do is leave room to swallow more malarkey.

Theme park rumor nothing but fantasy 11/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 7:47pm]
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