CARLSBAD — Officials from the Danish toy maker Lego officially unveiled plans Friday for a 40-acre, $100-million theme park to consist of sculpted gardens, gentle rides for children and replicas of historical monuments made from millions of the tiny plastic bricks that are found in 70% of U.S. households with children.
The enthusiasm of state and local officials, pent up for a day after receiving word Thursday that Carlsbad had bested Prince William County, Va., in a competition for the park, was evident at an upbeat news conference that resembled an economic pep rally.
"Last January, I told the people of California that we were going to rebuild this state's economy job by job by job," said Gov. Pete Wilson. "Now, with Lego coming to California, we can also say we're going to do it block by block by block."
Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis, a retired history teacher and football coach, said he had not been so happy since the unbeaten Carlsbad High football team won a championship in 1961 after being winless the year before.
"You have to have a game plan," Lewis said. "We had a game plan in 1961, and we had one this time, too. I love to see a good game plan work."
State and local officials who accompanied Wilson at the La Costa Resort & Spa credited the state's new "red team" with persuading Lego to come to Carlsbad.
Red team officials from various agencies meet early and often with executives whose companies are thinking of coming to California or whose companies are thinking of leaving the state.
John Poimiroo, director of tourism in the state Trade and Commerce Agency, said California officials began meeting with Lego executives more than two years ago to discuss any hurdles that might discourage the company from building its first U.S. theme park in the state.
One meeting took place at the La Costa resort on April 30, 1992, the first full day of the Los Angeles riots. Wilson had been scheduled to attend, but was forced to remain in Sacramento, Poimiroo said.
Still, Wilson took time to phone the meeting at La Costa and assure the Lego executives that, despite the riots, California was a good place to do business. In February of this year, Lego narrowed its U.S. choices to Carlsbad and Prince William County from a list that once included 600 sites.
California has offered Lego $7 million in new roads, overpasses, and marketing assistance. The state Water Resources Control Board has provided a $5-million, low-interest loan for water reclamation.
Christian Majgaard, executive vice president of Lego, based in Billund, Denmark, said the deciding factors for Carlsbad over Prince William County were the year-round good weather, the higher percentage of families with children in Southern California and recent changes in California laws, especially one that lowered taxes on foreign corporations.
Majgaard said Lego's choice of Carlsbad, which is 35 miles north of San Diego, was not influenced by the recent announcement of the Walt Disney Co. that it plans a park in Prince William County. Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, who had engaged in a spirited competition with Wilson to woo Lego, said Thursday he believed that Lego was reluctant to compete with Disney.
The company hopes to open the park in 1999, creating 650 full-time and part-time jobs and $2 million annually in tax revenue.
As outlined by Lego, the Lego Family Park will be primarily for children under 13. There will be ample opportunity for children to assemble their own toys and models with the multicolored Lego bricks.
Rides will include boats and small electric cars; the site, now used to grow tomatoes and flowers, would be replete with gardens and fountains. Some flower fields will be preserved.
"It will not have high-speed thrill rides or the carnival atmosphere of large theme parks," Majgaard said.
The Lego bricks will be assembled into scale-model villages, zoo animals and the kind of exhibits found at Legoland in Denmark: replicas of American icons such the U.S. Capitol, Mt. Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. Majgaard joked that to respect American sensibilities, the Carlsbad park would not include a replica of the Danish royal castle.
An opposition group called Neighbors Against the Invasion of Lego--NAIL--has vowed to force a public vote. There are indications that the Carlsbad council will schedule such a vote without forcing NAIL to mount a petition drive.