ROSWELL, N.M. – Businesses here have been cashing in on the UFO craze for years — paintings and replicas of UFOs and space aliens adorn downtown buildings, and even the McDonald's and Wal-Mart are UFO- and space-themed.
Now city officials want to take it to another level with a UFO-themed amusement park, complete with an indoor roller coaster that would take passengers on a simulated alien abduction.
"Nobody will be harmed and everybody will be returned, hopefully, in the same shape," concept designer Bryan Temmer said.
The park, dubbed Alien Apex Resort, could open as early as 2010. The city has received a $245,000 legislative appropriation for initial planning, but the park would be privately built and managed. Requests for proposals will be advertised next month.
The proposed park initially will cover 60 to 80 acres with room to expand to 150 acres. It will feature other rides and attractions, including an exhibit hall with information on scientific exploration of the universe.
"It's not just about the Roswell Incident and did it happen," said Temmer, of Land O' Lakes, Fla.
The Roswell Incident, of course, has brought the southeastern New Mexico city worldwide acclaim. It centers on a purported UFO crash on a nearby ranch in July 1947, which the military later claimed was a top-secret weather balloon.
Temmer, who describes himself as a fan of theme parks and science fiction, pitched the concept to city leaders two years ago. "I knew there was only one place on the planet, probably in the universe, where this idea would work," he said.
City Planner Zach Montgomery said the project will cost "several hundred millions of dollars," but a more accurate figure hasn't been determined. A roller coaster similar to the one Temmer proposed is under construction at another theme park for almost $100 million, Montgomery said.
Montgomery said the city is considering six potential sites but declined to identify them, other than to say each is within city limits or could be annexed. He also wouldn't name potential operators, but said at least four major corporations approached about the idea are excited.
Some business owners believe the theme park is necessary to keep tourists returning.
Sharon Welz is a co-owner of the Roswell Space Center, a T-shirt and souvenir shop just off Main Street. She said visitors often complain they'd like to see and do more during trips to the town of about 50,000 people.
"We would welcome something like an alien roller coaster or a theme park, absolutely," she said. "How can it hurt us?"
Montgomery agrees, saying the top complaint by tourists during the city's annual UFO festival each summer is that there's not enough to do.
The town's biggest tourism attraction is the International UFO Museum and Research Center, which has drawn 2.5 million visitors since opening in 1992. Beyond that, it's largely boutiques like the one run by Welz.
"We're still in the infancy of our UFO-related economic development," Montgomery said. "Eventually, when people come to Roswell they're not going to have enough time to do everything they want to do. That's our goal."