Eloy’s Decade Of Doubt

The Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., went belly up in September, with the economy in free fall and gas prices through the roof. This led Arizona officials to cast a wary eye on a nearly identical theme park idea in Eloy, a small town between Tucson and Phoenix.

Decades, a rock ’n’ roll theme park project backed by local real estate developers, needs $100 million in seed money to get access to government-issued bonds just to break ground. And that money seems to have dried up like a puddle in the Sonora Desert.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a legislative bill in September approving the project, but that was then. Now, state officials are openly doubting the park will ever break ground.

The failure of the Hard Rock Park just three months after Arizona legislators approved the funding bill for Decades was a dark omen for the future of the $800 million project.

“Ultimately, it’s never going to be built,” said State Sen. Ken Cheuvront of Phoenix, who opposes the project. “In this economy, the financing is impossible for a theme park out in the middle of nowhere. It’s crazy to begin with.”

Supporters remain guardedly optimistic. Eloy Mayor Byron Jackson said it might take a decade for Decades to become a reality. “There’s just so much involved,” he said.

And while the economy is putting the skids on startup projects like Decades, experts say the theme-park business as a whole is managing to hold its own.

“People still fundamentally have a need for family entertainment and the escape that an amusement park provides,” David Mandt of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions told the Arizona Daily Star. “Now, maybe more than ever.”

But the clock is ticking for Decades. The law allowing government bonds to be issued expires in 2016.