- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

Lego is building again. But at up to $130 million, this isn't child's play.

The Danish toy maker plans to choose among the Washington-Baltimore area, Orlando, Fla., and Tokyo for the home of its next family theme park, said Joe Manna, director of location development for North America for Lego Global Family Attractions.

"Part of what makes us consider Washington is its huge tourism due to government and historical attractions," Mr. Manna said.

It is the second time Lego Company has considered the region for a theme park. In early 1990, company officials looked at a site in Prince William County, Va., on the Potomac River near Interstate 95. Ultimately, they chose a site in Carlsbad, Calif., for a $130 million park that opened last year.

Like its predecessors, the proposed park will be called Legoland and feature kiddie rides and amusements that look like giant plastic-brick constructions.

The company is currently looking for a site of 125 to 175 acres that has access to major highways and public transit, a large residential population and established tourism, Mr. Manna said.

He added that favorable development incentives from local governments will also factor into the company's decision.

The company has been opening a new theme park every three or four years lately, beginning with Windsor, England, in 1996, Carlsbad last year, and another park in Gunzburg, Germany, scheduled to open in 2003. Lego opened its original park in Billund, Denmark, in 1968.

Lego hopes to decide on a location by year's end and possibly open the park as soon as 2004, Mr. Manna said. It expects to begin its search soon.

"If we want to open [on this schedule] we need to be looking now," Mr. Manna said.

Lego is likely to look along interstates 95 and 66, as well as the Route 234 bypass out of the need for highway access, said Randy Atkins, a land broker with Julien J. Studley. While that would include the site it once considered, it may be more difficult now. Parts of the Prince William site near Cherry Hill have gone for residential construction and a master plan has been drawn up for the remainder, he said.

A park in Washington would close during the winter months and possibly attract 1.7 million visitors, Mr. Manna said.

Orlando, with about 60 million visitors a year, has an advantage in tourism over Washington, which had about 22 million visitors last year. In Orlando, the park could stay open all year and is expected to attract 2.5 million visitors.

However, Washington has a higher average level of resident income, he said.

A good location, access to major highways and normally mild winters are the natural attractions that the Washington area offers, said one official that promotes the area.

"The things that make this area attractive to tech companies are the same things that would attract [Lego]," said Thomas Morr, managing partner of the Greater Washington Initiative, an umbrella marketing organization that promotes development in the region.

The Prince William site stood a good chance of winning the Lego theme park before it chose California, said one official who worked on the project.

"It was a very close call," said John Gessaman, who was head of the Prince William County Department of Economic Development at the time of Lego's search.

Lego's moves come at a time of heightened interest in theme parks in the United States.

Next year, Walt Disney Co. plans to open Adventureland alongside its Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Cedar Fair LP is adding $110 million in new rides and facility upgrades at Knott's Berry Farm in Southern California. And the curtains will be raised in about two weeks at Jazzland, New Orleans' newly built $100 million extravaganza.

Amusement Business, a Nashville, Tenn.-based trade publication, estimated that attendance at 50 of the nation's most frequented parks grew to a record 170.5 million visitors last year, up 3 percent from 1998.

• This article is based in part on a Dow Jones News Service report.

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