Depictions of Moses standing before a burning bush and Noah's Ark are envisioned as theme attractions at a "Bible Park U.S.A." proposed for Rutherford County.
Developers of the $150-300 million educational and non-evangelical park expect to hire 200 to 300 fulltime employees and 500 to 1,000 seasonal employees, said Armon Bar-Tur, managing director and co-founder of SafeHarbor Holdings LLC of New York City.
Holly Sears, chamber director of economic development, said developers expect 800,000 to one million visitors annually.
Bar-Tur presented a concept of the park Friday to Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce board members, Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess and county commissioners, city officials from Murfreesboro, Smyrna, La Vergne and Eagleville, and the county's state legislators during a meeting at Smyrna Town Centre.
While the location has not been confirmed, two county commissioners and several homeowners told The Murfreesboro Post the concept plan is targeted off Blackman Road near Interstate 24. Bar-Tur said the park would need about 50 to 150 acres with about half needed for parking.
Blackman resident Al Demumbreum, who said he lives across from the proposed 240-acres Shelton farm site, said he'd rather have the theme park than 240 houses.
County Mayor Ernest Burgess said if developed in the county, the park would provide an economic boon to the county. Before becoming a reality, Burgess said the county must address traffic, noise, water and sewer issues that could be worked out.
"I do personally feel this project will be of great benefit," Burgess said.
In an interview, Burgess said he expects SafeHarbor to continue evaluating the project and "crunching their numbers about costs and prospective services" before deciding on a definite location.
"Although it's yet to be determined, it's probable it could be in the county," Burgess said, explaining the county could receive all of the local option sales tax from the park. After the basic services such as roads and water, Burgess doesn't believe the park will require many county services.
In his presentation, Bar-Tur said the park will show "visual story of the Bible" independent of religion. Visitors will enter the gates of Jericho leading to Jerusalem. A moat will connect the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. A museum will highlight, "The Bible — the Greatest Adventure." One anchor ride will allow visitors a simulated helicopter ride over Jerusalem.
"This will be an incredible experience for all ages," Bar-Tur said.
An Agape Tent will allow visitors to eat authentic Middle Eastern food.
The Old Testament part will feature a Tree of Life with stories told throughout the park. In the Exodus story, developers envision 25-foot high "waves of water" rising at each side with Moses standing in front of a large inferno to represent the burning bush.
Noah's Ark will have a full-sized ark with a "Two by Two Theater Experience." Several fun rides will be offered.
The New Testament section will feature the Sight and Sound Theater from Pennsylvania to act out stories from the Bible. Designers propose a stone tablet wall inscribed with the New Testament. Church members may conduct Bible study in the area.
A Dome of the Light will host a museum with the exhibits such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and a recording studio where churches may record CDs to bring back to their church.
"Maybe we'll have a battle of the choirs," Bar-Tur said.
The teen area will feature a dark, indoor roller coaster, coffee house and sports center.
SafeHarbor is sponsoring its first Hard Rock theme park that is expected to open next year in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Bible theme park is the first one proposed by SafeHarbor.
Bar-Tur believes the park will result in a significant economic impact to the county.
Rob Lyons, Murfreesboro's assistant city manager, said the presentation was a "very exciting opportunity for Rutherford County with more work and study to come. This project is looking at Rutherford County and we believe the project would have a very positive impact for all of us."
Sears said elected officials must create a tourism or entertainment district for the site and zoning must be addressed. She received positive feedback after the meeting.
Chamber President Steve Benefield said the park is another opportunity to diversify the economy and create new revenues for county government. He compared the park to King's Island near Cincinnati, Six Flags Over Georgia or the Disney Parks in Orlando, Florida.
Benefield expects visitors from all over the world that will spend tourism dollars in the county. He hopes they will also visit other tourism sites like Stones River National Battlefield and the Sam Davis Home.
The park will create hotel, restaurant, shopping and service jobs too.
"We have for years and years described tourism as being a clean industry," Benefield said. "It brings people into the community, allows them to spend their disposable income and go back to where they may live. It's a very positive opportunity for our community."
Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at email@example.com.