Park World speaks to Russian Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions first-vice president Igor Rodionov to discover why Russia looks like becoming one of the industry’s hot spots.
Although there are many municipal amusement parks and family entertainment centres throughout Russia, the world’s largest country has still to welcome its first major theme park. Yet momentum is building. Several large resort-based projects have been announced in recent months, with big names such as Universal and DreamWorks putting their hat into the ring alongside proposed projects promising to integrate elements of Russian culture and folklore.
There are at least three major theme park resorts proposed for the Moscow area. Do you believe all three will happen, and are you aware of any more?
There is a very close attention to Russia nowadays from entertainment industry professionals, including foreign ones. Most often they talk about “Russia Park” in Domodedovo or Universal Studios in Moscow itself. Now it is difficult to say exactly when these projects will be implemented. “Russia Park” presupposes the construction of a miniature park, amusement park, safari park etc. I think the first of these zones will be implemented in the coming years, as the “Russia in miniature” idea has been discussed for a long time and has good governmental support. The Universal park is a private project. Its full implementation is scheduled for 2019, but construction has not started yet. As in any other country, there are difficulties in Russia, so only the most patient and persistent will manage to do it.
Will the “resort” model work?
In my opinion, it is high time to build a large theme park resort in Russia. Taking into consideration the climate, the mentality of people in Russia, welfare, etc, the large tourist centres of Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi are the most suitable places where this kind of park will work.
Other than Sochi Park and the proposed DreamWorks projects, what other proposed parks and attractions are you aware of around the country?
In many cities today the reconstruction of amusement parks is taking place, new indoor family entertainment centres are opening, and attractions with modern equipment are appearing. Amongst other projects currently scheduled to open in Russia are Angry Birds Activity Parks and KidZania.
How important is it that Russia develops its own park brands and concepts?
Both the branded parks like Disneyland and Universal and the locally-themed parks can be popular in Russia. The Disney characters are popular worldwide, and Russia is no exception, but there is also a very rich heritage of Russian fairytales and folklore that children know and love from childhood, including the literary works of Pushkin, Aksakov and Ershov. Characters such as Baba Yaga, Kashchei Bessmertny, Vasilisa the Wise and the Little Humpbacked Horse offer very wide potential. We already have small amusement parks in Saratov, Voronezh and other cities devoted to these subjects, but now it is important to revive these characters and build a large Russian theme park dedicated to Russian characters. That really would be a fairytale come true.
Until now a lot of Russian attractions have been family entertainment centres or smaller municipal parks. Why do you believe all this development (or talk of development) is happening now?
I think this is because the city authorities are aware of the important role that amusement parks play in the social and cultural life of the society. The more we urbanise and the less free time people have, so it is necessary to create conditions for high quality and comfortable relaxation, and amusement parks are ideally suited for this.
What is the current state of Russia’s parks and attractions industry?
There are currently about 600 outdoor amusement parks in Russia today. Most of them (around 85%) have municipal, publicly-owned status, but over the last three years a lot have become autonomous institutions, that is they remain mainly municipal-owned, but can operate themselves without any direct input from the authorities. There are still only a few very large amusement parks, but there are some such as the park at the All-Russian Exhibition Centre (VVTs) and Gorky Park in Moscow, Riviera Park in Sochi and St Petersburg’s Divo-Island. Family entertainment centres (FECs) are very actively developing. Each year several new large indoor facilities open. The most famous among them are the Happylon chain in St Petersburg, Krasnodar, Sochi, Surgut and two outlets in Moscow. Other large private operations that work very well include Cosmic and Fun City. In the 1990s the amusement parks were in ruins, mainly because they had no “owner”, and weren’t seen as belonging to anyone. Now they can develop autonomously there have been a lot of new rides purchased, etc. While many well-known foreign companies are active in the Russian market, the manufacture of amusement rides has also improved significantly within the country, and today almost all kinds of entertainment equipment are manufactured here. The annual RAAPA Expo, where all these novelties are exhibited, facilitates a lot of business for both the Russian and international suppliers.
What are the biggest challenges to new park development?
Legislation, weather, spending power and other factors all influence the development of new parks to some degree, but I should say nowadays in Russia there are places and opportunities to create attractions that will be in demand among visitors, in spite of all the problems.
Which other CIS (former Soviet) countries would you identify as “hot spots”?
First of all, Kazakhstan, where the FEC and waterpark sector is very well developed. Then there is Ukraine where several waterparks have been opened the last few years and the outdoor amusement parks much improved. The brightest examples of large-scale reconstruction are in Kharkov and Donetsk – the parks there are world-class.
Do you envisage any Russian park operators expanding outside the CIS countries in years to come?
We need to build a lot more attractions in Russia first! It is such a large country with a large population, and urban residents are in need of amusement parks and entertainment. That’s why for the coming years, I think most operators will concentrate primarily on Russia and the CIS countries. However, I am aware of some operators have opened FECs recently in Poland, and other attractions in Eastern Europe are possible. We also know about a very large-scale project in one of the Middle Eastern countries, but it has to remain a secret just for now.
Here are some of the big theme park projects currently being proposed for Moscow and elsewhere in Russia:
This mega project was announced to the industry at IAAPA Attractions Expo last November in Orlando. A site of at least 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) has been earmarked near Domededovo airport, about 30km (18 miles) from central Moscow. Two parks showcasing Russian regions and culture would be created, in addition to a safari park, hotels, restaurants, botanical gardens, a museum complex and exhibition centre. The development time is cited as six years and annual attendance is projected at an optimistic 10 million. Representatives of Park Russia have not been forthcoming with details of the project’s funding, or whether any designers or masterplanners have yet been appointed – perhaps not judging by the somewhat generic images shown in Orlando.
Magic World Russia
If it happens, then this US$3 billion project outside the Russian capital would become of the most expensive theme park developments ever built. Masterplans are currently being prepared by Gary Goddard Entertainment (GGE) in close collaboration with Moschanko Investment Group 2000 (MIG 2000), a partner of the Russian Corporation. Up to three park would be built on a site 50km north of Moscow, including “Park Russia” (not to be confused with the project above), a Hollywood studios-branded movie park and a “park without boundaries” for children with limited abilities. Also proposed are a “St Petersburg Street” retail/dining area, fountain show, 2,500 seat amphitheatre and three themed hotels. Around 80% of attractions will be enclosed and so shielded from harsh weather. Current estimates for completion suggest six years.
Galactica Park/Universal Studios Moscow
This proposed 150,000 square metre indoor facility, part of the broader “Galactica Park” project in Moscow, would be the first Universal Studios theme park in Europe and the largest indoor attraction in the world. A market analysis and financial feasibility study has already been completed by Entertainment + Culture Advisors (ECA), which was retained by Universal Parks & Resorts and the Russian development company ZAO Rusinkom (part of the B&N group of companies). Current plans for the Galactica Park entertainment complex call for an investment of around US$2.8 billion. As well as the Universal Studios park it would also include two large hotels, a convention centre and a 20,000-seat arena, which would be operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). Construction could begin as early as next year, with opening scheduled for 2018/9.
DreamWorks Theme Parks
DreamWorks Animation is another big US studio to have made public its plans for the Russian market. The California-based company, which already licences brands including Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda to Universal parks in the USA, Singapore and Japan, as well as Dreamworld in Australia, has entered into a partnership with property developer Regions GC to realise three theme parks in Russia. Madagascar 3 is apparently the country’s fourth highest grossing film of all time. The proposed parks in Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg would feature as part of larger mixed-use complexes including cinemas, concert arenas, hotels and retail – one of which would apparently be the largest development of its kind in Europe. Completion is predicted as early as 2015.
Sochi Adventure Park
Construction is now at an advanced stage on this project in the Black Sea city that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Set to open later this year, close to the Olympic facilities, the JRA-designed park will feature national folk tales, legends and stories, plus rides and attractions from leading suppliers including Vekoma, Mack and S&S. The main theme park will be complemented by a pedestrian street with shops and restaurants, an artificial lake and fountain/laser show, a 350-room hotel complex and a craft village. By 2020, the complex is expected to expand to 54 hectares, taking in 13 former Olympic facilities.
Anapa Theme Park
Billed as the “first theme park from Russia,” using local stories as its inspiration, this 10-hectare project on the Black Sea is about to be masterplanned by the Dutch design form Jora Vision, which will also been contracted to complete the theming. Anapa is already known as a family holiday destination, attracting hundreds of thousands of annual visitors. The new Anapa Theme Park, developed by Entertainment Industry Ltd, will feature rides and attractions for all ages, plus activities that take into account the local climate and make the most of the natural scenery. Opening is scheduled for 2015/16.