Plans for a theme park in Sutherlin, which local officials hoped would give a much-needed economic boost to the region, have been derailed after 2 1/2 years in the works.
The developer behind the ambitious project, Oregon Only Development CEO Bruce Brunette, did not exercise his option to purchase the 126-acre, county-owned site nor come up with the required $500,000 down payment. His deadline to do so was Monday.
County officials said Brunette indicated he is no longer pursuing the project.
Plans for the park date back to May 2017, when representatives from Oregon Only met with Sutherlin, Douglas County and state officials to discuss the project. Over time, Brunette floated plans for a theme park to be located just off Interstate 5 and feature Oregon-centered activities, including a museum, water park, a lake with fishing and boating opportunities, and an outlet mall. Brunette also unveiled plans to build a hotel, convention center and RV park on the site.
He did not return phone calls seeking comment.
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Sutherlin City Manager Jerry Gillham said he received an email from Brunette “closing down the project” but did not elaborate or return a phone call seeking comment.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice, who had helped broker the deal, said Brunette “failed to exercise his option.”
The county first entered into a purchase agreement with Oregon Only in August 2018, with closing scheduled for the following month, Boice said in a prepared statement. However, Brunette missed the deadline to close and was given four extensions before he signed a new option to purchase agreement, which was signed in March of this year, Boice said. The final option to purchase agreement was extended on Nov. 18, to the Monday closing date.
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“Despite making every reasonable effort to see the project through, we are incredibly sad that this project will not come to fruition,” Boice said in the statement. “It was an exciting concept for Douglas County. It would have created jobs, increased tourism and created additional commerce in our area. The county did everything we could to extend the process and give Oregon Only ample opportunity to close the deal, while also being willing to help with regulatory hurdles if the property had sold. The county will continue to search for viable economic development partners for this and our other properties. Getting these properties productive and back on the tax rolls is a priority of ours.”
The potential economic impact of development, including the estimated 150 temporary jobs needed to build the park and another 150 permanent jobs eventually needed to run it, gave hope to Sutherlin and Douglas County officials, who embraced the project
Gillham had said the theme park would be a “transformational project for the whole community” and “a catalyst for all of Douglas County.”
Sutherlin Mayor Todd McKnight echoed those sentiments, saying: “It would be a huge shot in the arm for the economy, not only for Sutherlin but for Douglas County. It would just be phenomenal.”
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Boice also lauded the proposed project.
“It means a whole bunch of good things for the county, including jobs and other fringe benefits,” he had said.
For his part, Brunette touted his work experience, which he said included dozens of parks and projects, including the Dallas Aquatic Center in Oregon, and in Washington Wild Waves in Federal Way, The Ritzville Aquatic Center in Adams County and the Propsta Aquatic Center and the Jim Parsley Community Center for the city of Vancouver.
Brunette also had insisted that he had done his homework for the project and that his plans were viable.
“This is not a half-baked idea,” Brunette said in September. “This has been completely thought through and analyzed. We brought some very good people to the table to help develop this.”
Following the news that Brunette had shut down the project, Gillham tried to stay positive.
“We move on to our next opportunity,” he said. “As my grandfather used to say, ‘You can’t get on the dance floor if you don’t show up at the dance,’ except that this one in particular, was a long dance.”