Thursday, May 18, 2006

Marine World's Historical Impact Recognized at Luncheon

Marine World's Historical Impact Recognized at Luncheon
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

It's hard now to imagine Vallejo without Six Flags Marine World, but the city wasn't even in the running when the theme park was first seeking a new home, said the keynote speaker at a Wednesday tourism luncheon.
Held at the theme park, the 15th annual Vallejo Convention & Visitors Bureau Tourism Luncheon recognized Marine World's 45th anniversary and its 20th year in Vallejo. The event also saw the installation of the bureau's new board officers and members.

Mike Gallagher, president of City Pass, a national tourism program and former Marine World official, oversaw the park's move from Redwood City to Vallejo and the weeks and months leading up to it. It was a time filled with tense and amusing moments, he said.

"(Former park president) Mike Demetrios had a park he loved and wanted to move and (former Vallejo mayor) Terry Curtola had a city he loved and wanted to make better," Gallagher said. But the idea of moving the park to Vallejo was anything but automatic, he said.

"We had no space to grow in Redwood City, and the land was sold to developers," Gallagher said. The Redwood City property now houses software giant Oracle's headquarters. "We looked at 35 cities. We became experts on unsuccessful golf courses and landfills. But originally Vallejo was eliminated. We were going to move to the South Bay."

Curtola, who attended the luncheon, would not be dissuaded in his quest to lure the park to town despite the results of a feasibility study that panned the idea.

"He courageously took $20,000 of the city's money and had his own study done to prove the original was wrong," Gallagher said. The developers gave the park 90 days to leave Redwood City, and the decision to move to Vallejo was made.

"Terry said at the time that it was like chasing Marilyn Monroe for two years and she finally says yes," Gallagher said.

Nothing about the move was done in the usual way, he said. Park officials broke ground first and got the money later, never really securing a deal with a contractor, Gallagher said.

"And we moved in two weeks," Gallagher said. "We moved 2,000 animals, 5,000 plants, 100 mature trees and 5 million pounds of stuff."

Many of the animals were barged across the bay, acting like a modern day Noah's Ark.

The whale was the last to move, Gallagher said.

"He didn't want to go. We kept telling him, RWe have a much better place for you,' " Gallagher said. "At one point, the tail came up and hit the trainer in the head and knocked him out. There were a lot of things like that that went on."

The whale was driven to Vallejo overnight despite CHP objections and the move was complete, Gallagher said. The park opened June 16, 1986.

"About 30 million people have visited the park in the 20 years since, and many come away with a better understanding of animals, and that's the whole point," Gallagher said.

The annual luncheon was established in 1991 by Meme Sharp-Tenold, a former bureau president who attended Wednesday's event.

"I thought it would be a good way to help people come to recognize the importance of tourism to the local and regional economy, and since May is National Tourism Month, that seemed like a good time to have it," Sharp-Tenold said.

The event was attended by an estimated 100 people.

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