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Lindon • Ken Bretschneider stands in front of a miniature version of his dream, a sprawling park with an imposing castle, a derelict pirate ship, soaring overgrown ruins, woods filled with magic and a bustling town square.
Painted blue rivers in the model snake around the hamlet and ruins, streaming into the luminous caverns, where boats will ferry visitors to where pirates hide their gold. There are the two- and three-story Victorian buildings where, depending on the time of year, costumed men and women glide across a ballroom, Sherlock Holmes hunts for clues and Christmas sights and smells pull people into yuletide fantasies. There are the trees dotting the model's landscape that mark the forest, where brave explorers will take lanterns in hand and delve into the depths of a catacomb, at the direction of a witch they meet.
And that's just a taste of what Evermore Park plans to offer. It's all quite ambitious. The 45-acre park (slightly less than half the size of Lagoon) is tentatively slated to open in Pleasant Grove next year and will cost more than $150 million.
"This sort of thing isn't easy," Bretschneider said, standing in his bustling Lindon warehouse where pieces of the park come together. But he and a hard-working crew have every intention of pulling it off.
And they're giving the public its first chance to explore the park at Salt Lake Comic Con under way. Evermore's booth, decorated with glimpses of the park's graveyard area including a towering statue of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris with moving wings allows attendees to explore a virtual version of Evermore on provided iPads.
Bretschneider acknowledges that the project has its skeptics. But he is backed by a successful career. He founded the Lindon-based online security provider DigiCert in 2003 and was named as a finalist in Ernst & Young's Utah Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012. Retaining leadership at DigiCert, while also founding the charitable organization People Water, he's also now building the Urban Air Center, slated to become the tallest building in downtown Salt Lake City's skyline upon its completion.
Putting no small sum where his mouth is, Bretschneider has invested about $15 million of his own money into Evermore, which he calls "the world's first true adventure park." Organizers have yet to break ground at the 1710 W. 1700 South location land he bought from private landowners who had been using it for pumpkin patches and corn mazes but he hopes to open the first phase of the park by late next summer or early fall.
Concept redesigns from consultants have been the primary delay, Bretschneider said. For instance, consultant input led them to expand the town square at the front of the park, and now it can fit thousands of people for a summer concert.
Entertainment partnerships like that will help fund the park, along with private investments, Bretschneider said. As another example, he has an idea to create a publishing arm of Evermore that pulls in up-and-coming writers and graphic novelists to write, illustrate and sell books that take place within the park's world.
Pleasant Grove Mayor Michael Daniels is confident Bretschneider can pull this off. Daniels' son works at DigiCert, so the mayor has had occasions to meet the entrepreneur notably, during his extravagant Halloween parties. For the past several years, thousands have turned out to see Bretschneider transform his home into a haunted house of theatrical proportion.
"The detail is impressive. The artistic look is masterful," Daniels said, theorizing that the parties are Bretschneider experimenting with concepts for the park. "He has a flair for entertainment. I think he looks forward to the opportunity to delight people."
It was such a Halloween haunt that first sparked Bretschneider's passion years ago. His family couldn't afford a trip to Disneyland, but as a boy, his friend's father would turn their garage into a spooky maze. It may not have been spectacular, but it immersed him in an imaginative world one he wants to blow up to park-size proportion.
During the fall, Bretschneider plans for a Halloween theme to overtake Evermore, with family-friendly attractions during the day and darker frights at night. Summer, in turn, will sport a carnival atmosphere of acrobats, lantern festivals and dance performances. And in winter, Evermore will glow with the twinkling lights of Christmas.
The attractions will even be designed in a way that leads people through a story, one that changes with the seasons.
"When you go through our environment, it's like being embedded into a movie," Bretschneider said. "You're experiencing high-end actors, costuming, puppeteering, audio-visual effects to create the magic."
Plus year-round, attendees can search the forest for fairies, look for buried treasure around the 3-acre lake's pirate ship or wander through an old church, a Victorian graveyard and a hedge maze, among other attractions. That is, once it's all in place. Phase one will include at least the town square, old town, factory, ruins, woods and pirate cove areas, as well as retail stores and restaurants. Among the ruins, Bretschneider wants to build a Celtic pyramid where groups can don virtual-reality headsets and explore fantasy worlds as on "Star Trek's" holodeck. He calls it The Void.
The second phase of the project is supposed to add a mansion, church, catacombs, graveyard and pirate village, among other attractions. The third phase will add a hotel and theater.
And yes, the website assures, Evermore "will include LARPing." The acronym stands for live-action role playing, in which costumed people do battle with foam weapons.
Getting lost in fantasy like that is Bretschneider's goal for Evermore. As far as the park can control, attendees shouldn't be able to see any outside buildings or other signs of modernity from inside the park that would disrupt the illusion.
"We have to create an environment that allows events that we put together to be pulled off as feeling real. [We're] creating a massive set, or massive interactive stage, and that's what Evermore is all about," he said. "Everyone in the park is an actor. When you go into one of our shops or restaurants, every aspect of it feels like you're going back in time."
Evermore debuted an earlier model version of the park at FanX, and it's back for Salt Lake Comic Con, hoping to build buzz with a booth twice the size that showcases part of the Halloween attraction, as well as an updated park model.
Attendees at FanX were fascinated by the concept though some were skeptical that the dream would become a reality.
"A certain percentage are wondering if we can accomplish what we're setting out to do," Bretschneider said. "We're sure going to try. We've had enough practical experience doing it on a much smaller scale to know what we're doing."
The Pleasant Grove mayor believes fans won't be disappointed if they get their hopes up.
"Probably one of the things that interests me the most is that he has the resources personally, and within his group of contacts to assemble the skill sets [necessary]," Daniels said. Illustrating the point, Evermore has already attracted a seasoned name in the amusement-park business: It hired Steven Shaiken, a former senior vice president at Universal Parks & Resorts, as chief operations officer in July.
Bretschneider isn't settling for one Evermore, either. He has hopes to build Evermores across the country, even the world.
He has a long way to go. Then again, standing in a warehouse surrounded by a massive archangel, a tavern, a graveyard, wild costumes and a busy team of craftspeople not to mention tens of millions of dollars to invest up front he's come a long way from the boy whose family couldn't afford a trip to Disneyland.
Bretschneider finally went to the Magic Kingdom, a park that promises that dreams come true, in his 30s.
The dreamer stood over his miniature Evermore, eyeing its details. "We're going to do it better than anybody's ever done it."
Salt Lake Comic Con
The second annual event, drawing together fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genres, continues through Saturday.
When • Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 4-6
Hours • 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; floor opens an hour earlier for Gold and VIP passholders
Admission • $60 for a basic three-day multipass; $25 for Thursday only; $35 for Friday only; $40 for Saturday only. Gold and VIP packages also available, as well as discounts for buying in advance. Go to saltlakecomiccon.com for details.