October 30, 2017
Legoland Hoping to Build Business in the Empire State
When families think of theme park vacations, brands that tend to come to mind include Disney, Seaworld, Universal, and Six Flags. The folks at Legoland hope to add their brand to that august and time-tested company.
Currently, there are Legoland parks in Florida, California, as well as Japan, Dubai and other international locations. Now, the parent company, Merlin Entertainments, announced plans to open a Legoland in New York sometime in 2020.
The location is expected to be Goshen, a town about 60 miles north of NYC. Far enough for a getaway, but close enough to entice the millions of potential patrons nearby. Merlin already has a site plan, as well as the proper permitting, and the company says they will break ground “soon.”
Legoland would have a long way to go if they were trying to catch Disney on attendance. Disney World in Orlando welcomes about 52 million guests per year, with 19 million attending The Magic Kingdom alone. Universal’s Orlando-based theme parks draw about 16 million total guests annually, and Tampa’s Busch Gardens gets about 4 million. By comparison, Legoland New York is aiming for about 2 million per year. Not a huge number, but certainly significant.
And local businesses are hoping the attendance offers them a significant bump in income as well. However, not everyone is happy about the news. Local residents are not looking forward to increased traffic and the loss of farmland that is expected to come with the new theme park and ancillary businesses that always come with it.
Merlin has countered that the job increase will include “hundreds of high-quality” jobs to the county, while the park is expected to generate about $283 million in sales tax and hotel occupancy tax.
Anyone who has lived in a community that, eventually, welcomed a theme park will tell you this face-off is an old story. Residents don’t want to see their way of life changed. And, when a theme park comes to town, there’s no doubt that way of life will change. Open green spaces are taken up with feeder businesses and parking lots. New diners and service industry shops open along the roads going to and from the main attraction.
Then comes the inevitable seasonal employment. On one side, it’s a major boon for local youth looking for summer work. On the other side, it’s a consistent frustration to current residents who want things to stay as they were when they purchased their home.
Stuck in the middle are two parties who need to please enough people on both sides to make their own ambitions work.
One group, of course, is the business itself. Merlin doesn’t want to alienate the people it will depend on for off-season attendance and other functions. And local government officials certainly don’t want to upset voters. Making this work will require more than a “wait and you will see” attitude. They need a strong and consistent PR message to bring enough skeptics over to their side.