How to Start an Amusement Park  

The feasibility study is the first step the developer takes to start an amusement park because it provides important physical planning guidance. An industry expert usually prepares this detailed study, which is required by potential lenders and investors. It is critical that designs are in line with market needs and justified investment.

This planning study provides initial physical parameters, such as total land size needed and building space required. It also recommends the attraction mix and major components.

The planning firm conducting the feasibility study may also expand that effort and add initial amusement park design and master planning. These could include images of the new leisure attraction seen through the eyes of a typical visitor, which would help define the project's "look and feel" in financing and promotional presentations. This effort would also begin the detailed planning process needed to move the project towards completion.

Leisure Business Advisors LLC (LBA) provides this service in cooperation with Montchai Design. Tom Montchai is an experienced amusement park designer and is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Examples of his past work are shown on this page.

Although the actual process to start an amusement park differs from one project to another, the following paragraphs outline a typical approach.


Concept Development in the Feasibility Study

The development process generally begins with a site visit and initial meeting to discuss the client's vision for the new leisure attraction. Conceptually, the design effort begins with a blank page. The greatest opportunity occurs when unique aspects of the project can be effectively integrated with the proven experience of comparable attractions elsewhere and potential market support for this particular location. The resulting plan is generally the strongest tool in financing and operational efforts.                              


Design Charrette

As the feasibility study nears completion, the physical and financial framework is in place for conceptual design. The transition often occurs in a "design charrette" that brings together the client group with designers and other creative team members. The study's findings are discussed, and ideas presented by all involved.

Specific goals for this brainstorming session differ, depending on the type of leisure attraction being developed. For a new amusement park or theme park, this effort can begin with selecting a general overall theme and specific themes for individual areas. The most popular themes typically involve adventure or fantasy.

From the start, it is important to keep the potential guest experience in mind. Ultimate success depends on the new leisure attraction meeting visitor expectations and desires. 


Land Use Plan

At the design charrette, the master planning process also begins. It often starts with a "bubble diagram" that applies the feasibility study's physical recommendations to the client's site. This initial land use plan becomes more refined and detailed as it adapts to the particular needs of the concept and site. 

The above example provided by Tom Montchai, is from a past amusement park project with five themed areas, each of which would have a unique identity that is reinforced by its architecture and landscaping. An amusement park or "theme park" typically has five to seven distinctively themed areas under a broad overall theme.

The functional layout of this particular example basically follows the "loop" approach that is common with many recent amusement parks. In this layout, the themed areas surround a central lake that often serves as the location for evening spectacles. Another common layout is the "hub and spoke" approach that Disneyland first popularized. It has a central visual icon (such as a castle) as its hub, with themed areas fanning out from this centerpiece. Other layouts are used, and none is clearly superior to the others. Unique site characteristics influence the choice of the best functional layout, as well as other design aspects.

After establishing the themed areas, individual components are distributed within each area. Major rides and shows are typically placed at the edges in order to attract guests throughout the park. This approach helps maximize overall holding capacity and crowd flow. The main shops are generally placed near the exit for convenience.

Based on typical guest behavior and pedestrian planning standards, a visitor circulation plan can also be prepared to ensure smooth movement throughout the amusement park. This enhances guest comfort and prevents bottlenecks. 


Illustrated Master Plan

Functional needs are combined with visual theming in an illustrated master plan. An example is shown below by Tom Montchai from his past design work for a major new amusement park in China. As shown, structures are often color-coded by type in order to aid optimum distribution and placement.

Aerial Perspective  

Although functional aspects are critical for operational success, a new amusement park also needs to be visually appealing and understandable to non-professional individuals involved with the project. An effective way of showcasing a new amusement park is with an aerial perspective, often from a "bird's-eye" perspective. The aerial perspective below is for the same amusement park as the illustrated master plan above, but this perspective gives a better sense of what the amusement park would look like as it more clearly comes to life in the eyes of viewers.


As the overall design vision for the project takes form, more detailed views of smaller parts of the project (such as an individual themed area) can also be prepared. Below is an example of a close-up rendering that Tom Montchai prepared for the Town Square entertainment complex in Las Vegas. This image shows the locally acclaimed children's park area that opened in 2007.


Concept Art

Our visual perspective can shift to ground level, now that we have a detailed overall perspective. The conceptual sketch, or vignette, below is one of the many concept art images prepared by Tom Montchai for the Town Square children's park area in Las Vegas shown in the close-up rendering above. These artist conception images provide a view of the new leisure attraction through the eyes of a typical visitor.


Assistance with Later Design Efforts

This schematic design effort lays the groundwork for the subsequent design development and detailed design stages. The concept art images of individual structures will later become the starting point for scaled architectural drawings.

As an architect for Forrec Ltd, Tom Montchai was part of the design team for Universal Studios Florida and was the project architect for its Fievel's Playland area. Below is one of his facade sketches along with a photograph of the actual building on that theme park's New York Street after construction.


More Details on the Feasibility Study Process

These tasks the developer takes to start an amusement park can be part of an expanded planning effort that begins with the feasibility study. To learn more about the specific tasks involved in that study, click here.



Design images are provided courtesy of Montchai Design