How to Start an Amusement Park

by Fraser Sherman; Updated September 26, 2017
Teenage boys and girls on a roller coaster ride

In the 21st century, some theme and amusement parks -- Disney World, Six Flags -- are multimillion-dollar titans. There's still room in the entertainment world for smaller start-ups, but you can learn from the big players. Visit them and smaller parks, and get a sense of what rides and attractions are popular. This will help you shape plans for your own park.

Concept and Design

Some parks rely on spectacular, terrifying roller-coasters and thrill rides. Disney attractions are often tied to movies such as "Cars" or "Toy Story." You need to define your concept clearly to attract investors and market to the public. For example, you might have the world's largest water slide or rides with a Wild West or pirate theme. Think about your audience as you develop the concept. You may want to target teens or focus on parents with small children, for instance.

Finding Money

Amusement parks aren't cheap. A 2008 study from the University of Central Florida looked at decades of industry statistics and concluded start-up costs are more than $100 for each expected first-year visitor. If you want a million visitors the first year, you should expect to spend $100 million. Think smaller -- 50,000 visitors, say -- and you still need $5 million. You may need to spend 5 to 10 percent of the start-up amount on improvements and upgrades.

Feasibility Study

A good feasibility study can go a long way to showing investors your plans are sound. The study analyzes the total acreage you'll need for your project, the size of the buildings, and the mix of attractions and rides. It shows that your vision for the park matches what the market needs and that the park will return a profit for investors. If your study indicates your first concept is unprofitable, you'll need to come up with a new approach. Some studies also go into detail on the park design and layout.

Finding a Home

Most theme parks require space. A start-up covering 10 acres wouldn't be unusual. You need a location where the zoning or land-use requirements will allow a theme park. There has to be sufficient parking space, in addition to your rides. The roads and utilities must be able to handle a steady flow of visitors. A park that covers several acres may trigger higher land-use standards and development fees than, say, a four-store strip mall.

Rides and Requirements

An amusement park is just empty space until you fill it up with rides and attractions. You can work with companies that will design a custom ride for you or those that resell used amusement rides. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions includes lists of suppliers and vendors in its member directory (see Resources).

Regulation and Inspection

Wherever you buy your rides, they have to measure up to the industry's exacting standards. As of 2014, 44 states had safety regulations, and so did some county and city governments. If you can't pass a safety inspection, you won't open. You'll also have trouble finding insurance: Insurance companies will want to know your rides meet their standards before agreeing to cover you. The IAAPA has information about safety standards, regulations and inspections.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

Photo Credits

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