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Wichita teen hopes to revamp defunct park

Published on -7/2/2012, 3:17 PM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A Wichita teenager has been working to raise about $10 million to renovate the city's long-closed amusement park.

Alex East's project to restore the Joyland amusement park has raised about $6,000 from public donations. But the 18-year-old East estimates he will need $10 million to buy and renovate the 40-acre park, The Wichita Eagle reported Monday (http://bit.ly/LROSkI ).

His organization, Restore Hope Inc., recently got a boost when it was granted nonprofit status, which will allow it to apply for grants and accept tax-deductible contributions.

"Honestly, yes, the account is low right now, but only because we are strictly running off of public" donations, East said. "You know, people just donating their $10 or $20 or buying T-shirts."

East drew public attention in 2011 after he asked the Wichita City Council to fund his $10 million push to buy and restore the park, which closed permanently in 2006. The City Council did not authorize public funds for the project and the city's future role in the project, if any, remains unknown, according to director of Urban Development Allen Bell.

Bell said East's plan is "nowhere near being ready for the city to look at yet. I have no idea if there's a role the city will play in this. It's too early to tell."

Gary Slade, publisher and editor-in-chief of Amusement Today, said renovation could take a while and that funding may also be a problem.

"Joyland is sitting closed in Wichita. The Hard Rock Park is sitting closed in Myrtle Beach. The old Six Flags New Orleans site is sitting deteriorating," Slade said, adding that the parks are "all sitting idle because nobody has money."

Joyland owner Margaret Spear and her late husband, Stan Nelson, bought the park in the 1970s and closed it permanently after the 2006 season in part because of dwindling attendance. They put the park up for sale, asking $2 million. Later, the price dropped to $1 million, after the Nelsons sold some land and rides.

The site is now dilapidated; an arson fire destroyed a building in 2011. Weeds and trees are overgrown.

"It's horrible, it's absolutely horrible," District 3 council member James Clendenin said of the park's current state. "And that's putting it lightly."

But East, who visited the park with family and first rode the wooden roller coaster there at age 2, has been determined to restore the site and hopes to operate it as a nonprofit amusement park.

Neighbors support the project.

"The neighborhood thought is it (restoration) can happen, but it will take a major effort," said the Rev. Al Rose, an area resident and secretary of the Planeview neighborhood association. "... In a developed status, it could be a tremendous asset to the community."

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