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“Idaho’s Disneyland:” Whatever happened to the big Nampa movie studio and theme park?

Editor’s note: Here’s a ‘best of’ story from last December you might have missed while we’re working ahead on some projects!

“Disneyland was built in a year and a day, and we don’t see any reason we can’t do that either.”

Larry Eastland stood in front of a crowd at the Nampa Civic Center in April of 1996, and announced a big dream.

Sweetwater Junction.

The project, on land near what is now the Idaho Center, was full of promises.

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Forty-five golf holes. A theme park with 27 rides. An IMAX theater. Thrill rides. A themed shopping area “open in the summer and enclosed in the winter.” A farmers market on the scale of San Francisco or Seattle. An RV park. A water slide park. A new Idaho Stampede venue. A movie studio. A business park. Major events. Hotels An old-time car museum. A fountain. An ice skating rink. A new Boise State campus. All on 400 acres

The Idaho Press-Tribune’s headline at the time called it “A Dream Come True.” The Northwest Nazarene College student newspaper called it Nampawood.

The movie studio was to be the centerpiece for the project.

“There will be big stars and costars, but we will use some of the local talent – from the Shakespeare theater, the BSU theater, we want to use all the talents,” Hollywood stuntman and apparent studio head Tierre Turner said at the news conference.

“You’re looking at the greatest thing to hit the west, we think,” Eastland said. “We’re going to start moving dirt as soon as the city will let us. We have as much land as Disneyland.”

But the promise of Nampa’s Disneyland never came true.

The Northwest Nazarene College Crusader from 1996. “WHY IN NAMPA” it asked.

Big dreams. No reality.

Northwest Parks, headed by one-time gubernatorial candidate Eastland, as well as former Hollywood executive Robert Klosterman, laid out a grand vision and fast timeline.

Watching the news conference on YouTube all these years later, and with the benefit of knowing the outcome, it all seemed so fanciful. And, it was.

During that news conference, Eastland said they’d break ground that same month. Then it slipped to October. Then it slipped again and again.

In 1997, they told KTVB the project would be funded by investors from outside the area. A bill in the legislature to allow cities to levy a local option tax (which is still in the news), was designed in part to help with infrastructure for Sweetwater Junction. The bill died.

Klosterman told KBCI-TV (now KBOI2) the next year that ‘red tape’ slowed Sweetwater to a trickle.

“It took a while to accumulate the land we needed. And now we’ve just accomplished that to get the critical mass we need. And of course because that took longer, the whole process of applying for permits and rezoning – it just takes time.”

In May of 1999, the developers told the Idaho Statesman they would “take a slower approach.”

In October of 1999, they said they could not find enough investors. Another firm bought a controlling interest.

NNC Crusader newspaper diagram of the Sweetwater project.

No amusement park for Nampa

And the project faded away.

Instead, much of the land went to the Idaho Center, car dealerships a Walmart and other developments.

Klosterman died in 2003. Eastland moved onto other projects.

A few of the ideas from Sweetwater Junction did come to pass in different forms with other developers. Roaring Springs Water Park opened in Meridian in 1999. The Idaho Center opened as a home for the Idaho Stampede in 1997.

The Village at Meridian launched in 2013 with some of the ideas Sweetwater hoped to make happen, including the fountain and shopping area. (It didn’t have the convertible “open in the winter, enclosed in the summer” aspect…)

But a large-scale theme park turned out to be something you might find in Disneyland.

Fantasy.

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