A new theme park the size of the Magic Kingdom has just been announced. Its location? The middle of nowhere, 6 miles outside the small town of Vinita, Oklahoma. Named “American Heartland Theme Park,” the story behind the funding of this new park is extraordinary.
Who is Behind the American Heartland Theme Park?
Unlike every other major theme park in the United States, funded through rounds of private investment and lines of credit, American Heartland currently has only ONE backer funding the vast $2 billion dollar project. Executive Producer of Project Development, Steve Hedrick, recently divulged who that backer is. “Right now we have a financial backer of one,” Hedrick said, “and that’s Gene Bicknell. He’s been our benefactor.”
Pizza magnate Gene Bicknell created a nationwide chain of Pizza Hut franchises starting with a single location in 1962. By the time he sold his franchising company in 2006, NPC International owned close to 1,000 Pizza Hut locations. Due to his move from Kansas to Florida near the time of the sale, the State of Kansas ordered Bicknell pay $42.5 million in state income taxes, claiming their share of the NPC loot. Bicknell, who contested he was domiciled in Florida at the time, appealed this tax assessment, to little avail. After he was forced to pay the $42.5 million in 2017, Bicknell appealed to the state Supreme Court, who ruled Bicknell had indeed been domiciled in Florida when the sale took place, and ordered the State of Kansas pay Bicknell a staggering $63 million in 2022. Along with funding the development stages of theme park, Gene Bicknell also serves as Founder and Chief Creative Officer of American Heartland.
When Will the New Resort Open?
According to American Heartland, the first phase of the resort, an RV campground and cabin lodging area, will open in the Spring of 2025. The theme park is slated to open in 2026. Industry experts question how a park of this complexity, expense, and scale, will go from a grass field to completed within 3 years. American Heartland executives claim they are on schedule. We will keep you apprised of the latest right here as the situation develops!