Italian company proposes theme park for Venice

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By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press

VENICE, Italy (AP) — An Italian company that built Coney Island's latest attractions and an amusement park in a never-activated nuclear plant in Germany on Wednesday unveiled plans to invest 80 million euros ($110 million) for a theme park in Venice.

Antonio Zamperla, whose company specializing in amusement park rides generates revenues of 60 million euros a year, envisions a 55-meter (yard)-tall Ferris wheel, a rollercoaster and other rides, alongside installations illustrating the Venetian lagoon's fragile ecology and the city's history.

"We are arriving on tip-toes, as if entering a crystal store so we don't cause any damage," Zamperla said.

The project, which is pending approvals, is planned for an uninhabited island that once housed an incinerator. Zamperla is promising to clean up a toxic site and create 500 jobs, but Venetians aren't so easily won over.

Just this summer, French designer Pierre Cardin, who was born nearby, canceled plans to build a 2.4 billion euro ($3 billion) luxury tower on a disused site facing Venice due to bureaucratic snags, after spending more than two years and unspecified millions of euros.

Zamperla's park, dubbed L'isola San Biagio for now, could be open in two years "if things go smoothly, with no major opposition," he said.

Zamperla emphasized the project's focus on Venice's history. He is loath to call it an amusement park — an easy target for detractors who say the city already has been reduced to a sort of Venice-land, under the crush of tourists on the one hand and the exodus of Venetians to cheaper housing on the mainland on the other.

Lidia Fersuoch, president of the conservation group Italia Nostra's Venice chapter, said the project is flawed because it focuses only on tourism and doesn't propose ideas to attract residents and the kind of varied and vibrant economy that centuries ago made Venice a center of trade.

"We need the opposite of what they are doing, the possibility to make Venice a living city," she said. "We are always hostage to tourism."

Zamperla said his project will enrich tourists' experience and knowledge, but added that the amusement rides are necessary to pay for the cultural exhibits.

"In order to sustain the cultural investment, we need the attractions," he said. "Otherwise, it wouldn't pay for itself."

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