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Finance questions,agreements remain for Bible Park USA

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He and Huddleston both said they thought the city should see financial statements from the agencies providing the remainder of the investment, before it agrees to allow bonds to be issued for the TIF.

Huddleston also repeated the question which has been asked by others, “If this is such a good deal why do they need the city or county to help with the funding? Why not invest their own money?”

A brief recap of events over the past several months shows the original promoter of the park was SafeHarbor Holding Inc. represented by Armon Bar-Tur. He remained involved until June, when another project backed by SafeHarbor, the Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., went bankrupt and closed.

At that time the project became the responsibility of Robert Wyatt and Entertainment Development Group, Inc., a company incorporated in California in January 2008, by an Internet legal service called LegalZoom.com, Inc.

Wyatt said he is surprised that “considering the benefits in employment” developers say the proposed Bible Park would bring that anyone would be opposing the plans for the park.

“With a development this large scale we need this investment level to raise the rest,” he said. “We need this Internal Rate of Return to get investors to put up their money.”

He explained TIF this way. “TIF is a public-private partnership which brings benefits to the region. Quality requires more funding.”

He also said that other large scale developments in the area, such as Sommet Center in Nashville and the now closed Pyramid in Memphis used the TIF method.

Huddleston and Buhler also discussed the possible problems if the partnership resulted in a lawsuit by an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union.

When asked about possible problems if the Bible link resulted in a lawsuit, Wyatt said he and his company were working with “people like the ACLU to ensure that the way they do things will be acceptable both ways.”

He also said he had met with about 20 local pastors and they were all very positive about the park.

The two city councilors compared Bible Park USA to Opryland USA, a music-based theme park in Nashville, which closed in 1997. Opryland USA opened in 1972. Its closing was attributed to a number of factors including its location, bordered by the Cumberland River on one side and Briley Parkway on the other which prevented expansion, the cost of providing new rides every few years and more.

 Buhler pointed out that he went to Opryland twice in the years it was open. While Huddleston said he had gone to Opryland at least once a year, he said he didn’t see a Bible theme park with no rides attracting repeat customers.

When asked about how the park would attract enough customers to succeed, Wyatt said, “Marketing is of primary importance. The biggest mistake many developers make is they don’t market well. You need good marketing.”

Wyatt also described plans to keep the project as “green” or ecologically sound as possible.

“First we will look at local contractors and materials,” he said. “We plan to truck as little as possible in to the area.”

He added that the park is designed to incorporate green technology wherever possible. “We plan to recycle gray water, and use biodegradable materials for any disposable items. And we’re looking at porous parking, geothermal heating and cooling, and will use wind and solar to allow us to benefit and protect the earth.”

He also said this kind of technology was in keeping with a historical first century perspective, and because in the long run it saves money.

“I drive a Prius because it’s good for the environment and because it gets 43 miles per gallon,” he said with a chuckle.

Wyatt said he thought the fact that CoreTech was coming to Lebanon was an advantage for his project as well. CoreTech will be the first green technology research and development business park in the U.S. and is to be built in Lebanon off South Hartmann Drive and I-40.

“We’ve been reaching to talk to CoreTech about how to work together,” he said.

He also said he wanted local citizens to know that his company is working with 10 Judeo- Christian scholars “to be able to take rich, sensitive subject matter and do it justice, give the respect it deserves.”

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@wilsonpost.com.

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