As plans to move the dismantled Bell's Amusement Park to Wagoner County have halted at the moment, some Tulsans hold their breath to see if the park will rebuild the amusement park within city limits.
But even with the redevelopment of downtown Tulsa in full swing, Robby Bell, president of Robert K. Bell Enterprises Inc., said there are no current plans for his family's Ferris wheel carts to swing in the cities skies.
"We have other locations that we've been working on," Bell said. "A couple of them are within a 20-minute drive of downtown Tulsa, and then there are some that are further."
However, City Councilor John Eagleton said Tulsa's ride toward a new amusement park might be climbing its way to the top. Although the councilor previously discussed a plan to reopen Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa with Bell when the park first closed, Eagleton said the idea was just one of a number that business leaders have discussed with him.
"Robby is not the only game in town," he said.
Eagleton would not disclose the names of any others he has talked to about opening an amusement park, but some of the locations that have been discussed as possible sites for a new park include an area close to Woodland Hills Mall, land in west Tulsa and a brownfield near downtown.
Some Tulsans pointed to Murphy Brothers Exposition as the possible creator of a new amusement park. But Jerry Murphy, owner of the local amusement corporation that sets up rides and concessions temporarily for the Tulsa State Fair and six other national fairs, said he had no plans to open a permanent amusement park. Eagleton would not comment on if he had spoken with Murphy Brothers Exposition about creating a stationary amusement park in Tulsa.
Although he would not release names of businesses he has talked to, Eagleton said Tulsa needs an amusement park to fill the void left behind after the gates were closed at Bell's in 2006.
With both Bell's Amusement Park and Celebration Station shutting down their rides within the past five years, Eagleton said Tulsans' options for rides, games and entertainment attractions are now limited.
"It broke my heart when the fair board kicked the Bell's Amusement Park off the fairgrounds," Eagleton said. "It's something I still don't understand."
After being a part of Tulsa for more than half a century, Bell's Amusement Park was notified that the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority would not renew the park's lease in 2006. Since then, Bell said his family has been approached by several public and private entities about a possible relocation. One of these that looked like it could become a new home for Bell's Amusement Park was Wagoner County.
During the 2009 summer, Wagoner County officials approached Bell about relocating the amusement park to an area near Coweta. In late May, county commissioners passed a resolution to hold a special election in July for the public to vote on a quarter of a cent sales tax that would go toward fairgrounds for Bell's Amusement Park, an expo center and an animal shelter. Then on June 1, two county commissioners voted to rescind the special election. These commissioners did not rule out the possibility of the park in the future, but said they would like to study the proposal further.
With Coweta being about a 25 minute drive from where the park was originally located at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, Bell said a new location for the park could still serve Tulsans and northeast Oklahoma if the new location follows certain guidelines.
"We do have basic parameters that are, what we call, deal breakers for us," he said. "We will not reopen unless we are located off of a main thoroughfare or highway.
It has to be easy for customers to get to us."
Bell would not comment on the locations of any of the possible new sites. However, none of them are within Tulsa city limits, he said.
Although investing money into an amusement park during a recession might seem risky, Bell said his amusement park's past proves now to be an ideal time to reopen.
"Historically, we would make a fortune today if we were open in this economy," he said. "Nobody leaves town. The trips to Dallas and Kansas City dwindle, and the trips to the East and West Coast really dwindle.
"We had a huge economic boom at Bell's from 1978 to 1985. For people who remember those times, those were some ugly times financially in this country."
However, relocation has a high price tag. According to one possible layout of the amusement park on property within Tulsa County, it would take approximately $4.6 million to reopen. The park would have to be assembled throughout a period of years.
"It's impossible to take Bell's the way it was and put it all back up at one time," he said. "That bill is $10 million. We are not like the BOK Center that gets tax payer money to pay for their infrastructure or the Drillers. We have to borrow all this cash."
Depending on the location and the park's neighbors, Bell's plan is to open the park with a mixture of new and former rides. As more revenue comes in, more attractions could be added during the coming years.
Much of the park's equipment that has been in storage since the park was dismantled is still usable with a few updates. Bell said amusement park equipment can last for years, noting the Bell's Ferris wheel, which was destroyed in a microburst shortly before the park was closed in 2006, was still in a safe and working condition until that year even after being built in 1926.
With these rides quiet now after decades of being a part of creating memories at the former amusement park, Bell waits to see where he will rebuild a piece of Tulsa history.
"We want to get the park back up and running," he said. "There is a huge void now that Bell's is gone, and I think it is pretty obvious with people's reaction that people in northeastern Oklahoma want Bell's back open."
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