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The concept of Main Street America came about in 2007. The $161 million dollar amusement park was a very ambitious project to build something that looked like a cross between Cedar Point and Disneyland. The man behind the concept was a Rochester developer named Patrick Crosson of Axiom Entertainment.
Some of the attractions would be:
The park was estimated to create 700 local jobs in Crawford County at a time when they were sorely needed. Crosson had some business failures in the past including a personal bankruptcy, but he wouldn’t be the first or last promoter to have that on his record.
He was previously involved in an attempt to build an amusement park in Indiana in the 1990’s and even raised $10 million dollars. The plan eventually fell through, but he had left the project by that time. Crosson had some backers but was also looking for some state and local money, including tax breaks.
That isn’t unusual for a project of this magnitude. The 1800 acre site chosen was the land at I-75 and US-127 just south of Grayling and north of 4 Mile Rd according to the diagram in the newspaper. The target completion date was 2010. The projected number of visitors would be 2.4 million per year, an aggressive number.
The county was initially interested because the land in question wasn’t generating property tax revenue as 75% of it was state or federal owned. The previous governor, John Engler, had previously approved the sale of the land if a viable proposal with financing was on the table. The land had been appraised at about $5.2 million.
The local folks were mostly for it at this point from what I am reading and who could blame them? That’s a nice investment in the area. The downstate media people, not so much. Most of the op-eds that were appearing in the Detroit papers were negative. The writers were suspicious about the financing which as it turned out was prescient.
The environmentalists were against the idea as the land in question was fairly pristine at the time. There were also concerns about the amount of water the park would be using. All told, Crosson wanted $13 million from the county, the Michigan Dept of Transportation which would need to fund the road improvements, and the MEDC to the tune of $2 million in tax credits.
The next chapter was that the firm providing the financing, Remington Financial Group, was found to be under investigation by the FBI and regulators in other states. Apparently, the firm had accepted up-front funds from developers in those states for loans it did not deliver.
The state of Michigan made it clear it wasn’t going to sell the land to Crosson unless he could establish he had the financing lined up which is understandable. Crosson assured them they were on the verge of securing the funds.
This was all happening in 2008 and there were questions being raised about the revenue projections and the assumptions they were based on. Most believed Crosson was being way too optimistic about how many visitors he could draw in. He was projecting 500 thousand would drop by as they drove to other areas. He was even including 350 thousand rail passengers but that number far exceeded the rail capacity in Michigan at that time. The pitch was to create the Michigan version of the "Polar Express".
There was also major questions being asked about how Crosson was going to transport a full-size aircraft carrier to the site, which was to be the centerpiece. I have to admit that sounds awesome but entirely impractical. There was a thought he would try to use the Au Sable river to get it close.
Reality did eventually sink in. The financing never came through and the project was shelved. I did recover the web site for it on archive.org and it mainly just showed the highlights of what was being proposed. They did get the old state slogan a bit jumbled up by saying "Winter Water Wonderland" instead of "Water Winter Wonderland". I will let that one go.
The final question is this: Would it have been successful? It's hard to say but running a park like that would come with gobs of overhead. Competing against companies like Cedar Fair, who have alot more money and a proven track record would have been tough. Michigan had some great amusement parks in the past and the only one left is Michigan's Adventure, as of 2022. There are reasons for that. I do admire the audacity of Main Street America though. Having an amusement park in Grayling with a full-size battleship in the middle of it would have been something to see.