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Profile
Alberto Zamperla

The Italian entrepreneur is getting international attention for his plans to build a new cultural visitor attraction in the heart of Venice. He talks to Liz Terry

By Liz Terry | Published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 1

Alberto Zamperla’s passion for Venice is infectious – the history, politics, philosophy and sheer energy of the Venetians through the centuries have captivated and inspired him.

When news broke about his audacious proposal to build an attraction in Venice, the world’s media pounced and magazine and newspaper headlines screamed “theme park plan for Venice”, with reports rather disparagingly calling Zamperla – head of third-generation Italian ride manufacturer Antonio Zamperla SpA – a ‘fairground designer’.

Historians were up in arms at the prospect of a theme park inappropriately located in this jewel of a city, but the reality of Zamperla’s plan is different in intent from the media scaremongering and he puts forward a robust case when we sit down to talk.

His dream is to create a cultural hub to welcome visitors and celebrate the history and culture of Venice. “Lots of people don’t understand how the city came to be”, he says, “so we plan to tell the story of Venice and to celebrate and record its culture and traditions”.

If permission is given, the attraction will be built on San Biagio Island in the Venetian Lagoon, just a 300m, eight-minute boat ride from the city’s rail and cruise ship connections.

Previously used as the location for a rubbish incinerator, the land – which is owned by the state of Italy – has lain unused and badly contaminated for many years, to the point that Zamperla estimates he would need to spend E8m (US$11m, £6.5m) to clean the site before development work on the attraction could begin.

The way ahead
His first challenge is to establish a need: with so much history on view, surely a visitor attraction would be an unnecessary and artificial intrusion? But Zamperla argues that in spite of its splendours Venice fails to offer an experience which meets the needs of today’s tourists and that the city is sorely in need of a gateway attraction.

“Where can you go in Venice to learn about its history?” he says. “The Italians love history – Venetians love history – and we want to give them the chance to find out more about this amazing place.

“Imagine a city that for 1,000 years has never been occupied – and furthermore, has been democratic the entire time,” he says. “This is something to celebrate, because Venice shows the power of people working together and there are great lessons – that are still relevant today – to be learned from the past.

“For example, when a new Doge [chief magistrate] came to power in Venice, he was democratically elected and at the time of his appointment, the Venetian commissioners assessed his wealth. When he died, they estimated it again and if it had increased, the difference was confiscated by the government. This meant that if the Doge benefitted financially from his time in power, his family had to give the money back: what a great example to politicians today! We want to share this kind of history.”

The way forward
Initial planning permission is being sought for the creation of a four-hectare park which will be divided into three areas, as Zamperla explains: “The first area will be dedicated to the Venetian Laguna (Lagoon), which was very important in creating the way of life of the Venetians and protecting the city. We want to look at its strategic importance and also its traditions: inside the Laguna there are 50 different methods of fishing, for example, and we need to record them for posterity.”

The second area will focus on the history of Venice in past centuries, when it played a pivotal role in Europe, and will feature subjects such as the Battle of Lepanto in 1561, when the Republic of Venice, as a member of the Holy League, took on and defeated Suleiman the Magnificent.

The third area, says Zamperla, will be about Venice’s famous Mardi Gras. “We’re going to celebrate it all year round,” he says. “There will be people with masques and music and a recreation of the magic of the festival.”

Very much on-trend, there will also be a big wheel, giving views of Venice and – says Zamperla – the development will have a substantial theatre “because Venice is missing a theatre”.

The project must be self-financing, so will include paid-for leisure attractions along with the heritage and museum elements, with ticket prices yet to be set.

Phase two of the scheme – another carrot for the planners – will involve the redevelopment of a nearby area of wasteland as a garden: “In Venice there’s a lack of places to relax that are green and beautiful,” says Zamperla, “We’ll rent the land from the state, create a garden, take care of the security and cleaning and open it for public use. Running a city like Venice is very expensive and the city’s only park is dirty and badly run. Ours will be beautiful.”

University partnership
With so much historical accuracy required to realise the vision, Zamperla turned to academia for support, agreeing a partnership with Professor Carlo Carraro, the magnifico rettore [chancellor] at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. The project is a joint venture between Zamperla and the university.

This tie-up gives the scheme heavyweight backing, which it appears will be necessary as Zamperla prepares to do battle with those who are set against it: ”Objections are coming only from the intellectuals,” he says. “After we went public, those organisations whose aim is to keep traditions alive and to stop things changing came out against it – but we’ve also had good support for the project, so we’re going to press on and present it.”

The scheme is well advanced for this reason: “I had the vision two years ago,” says Zamperla, but we had to keep it a secret, because we didn’t want to give our enemies time to attack. Politicians are not brave, they wait for the opinion of the public – it’s frustrating.”

I ask if the project has a champion within the government? Zamperla says it does, but would rather not give names, although the fact it’s estimated to have the potential to create 500 jobs and involve an investment of E80m (US$110m, £66m) may go some way towards persuading them.

Planning permission
“We’re building this cosmopolitan centre in an area that was a dump – a brownfield site,” says Zamperla. “Under the city’s zoning I can create an amusement development there and it will improve the area. We don’t need planning permission to do that, just a building permit to go ahead with it.”

The biggest potential obstacle is the unknown nature of the ground and the not insignificant matter of the cleanup costs: “At the moment, we’re checking how much cleaning we need to do and how much weight we can put on the land,” says Zamperla. “As I said previously, we estimate it will cost E8m just to clean the ground, but if we discover it’s going to be more than that, unfortunately that will scupper the project and we won’t be able to do it.

“We’re getting on with construction drawings,” he says. “We want to push on with the scheme and do it quickly. The plan is to open for Mardi Gras 2017 if things go well, it would be a two-year project – a year to create the plan and a year to build it, because construction takes longer here, for obvious reasons.”

How many visitors?
Zamperla’s estimate of 500,000 visitors a year will be based on all transportation being done by boat, given the island’s proximity to Venice’s transport hub: “Over 20 million tourists visit Venice each year,” he says, “three million of these come by cruise liner and will disembark 300m from us, so 500,000 visitors isn’t a big percentage of that total. We believe it’s achievable.”

Venice is one of the only cities in the world that could contemplate delivering half a million return trips a year by water taxi, and Zamperla has done a deal with the water ferry operator: “We have an agreement with them to bring people by boat – this is the company from the municipality that’s in charge of water transportation,” he says. “They’re happy with the deal, as it will help them optimise their capacity and yield.”

I ask Zamperla how disappointed he’d be if the Venetian project doesn’t go ahead and he’s both philosophical and realistic, saying: “I passionately believe in the project and it would be a dream to make it happen, but I’m also a realist, and if at any time it becomes unviable, we’ll walk away from it.” Whether the project goes ahead or not, it's exciting to see attractions industry businesses stepping up with such ambitious ideas and not being afraid to go after them.

Elsewhere in the Zamperla empire

Antonio Zamperla Spa is a theme park industry veteran, heading up one of the only truly global ride design and manufacturing businesses.

The company has a network of eight offices around the world and in addition to designing rides for the major theme park operators, also has the contract to manage two attractions in New York City, the Victorian Gardens in Central Park and – since 2010 – the world famous Luna Park in Coney Island.

I suggest to Zamperla that these two management contracts are a well-kept secret and he explains the twists of fate which brought his business to be working with [now former] New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“My son went to the US to open an office,” he says, “and came to the attention of city officials who invited us to tender for the management of Victoria Gardens.” The company won the bid and city officials were sufficiently impressed to issue a further invitation when the tender came up to run the newly reconstructed Luna Park in 2010.

“We encountered protests when we won the Coney Island contract,” says Zamperla. “Some Americans said ‘why do we want these Italians here?’ But Bloomberg said he believed we’d do a good job – he stood by us.”

“Coney Island was the site of the first Luna Park in 1903,” says Zamperla. “It’s an historic location. The Luna Parks were a romantic notion from the novels of Jules Verne and are based on the mystery of the trip to the moon: the opening of the Luna Park in Coney Island was followed by others around the world, many of which are still operating today.”

The original park burned down and closed in 1944 to be replaced by other amusements. Then in 2005, the Coney Island Development Corporation published a revitalisation plan, with the intention of preserving and growing the historic amusement area and creating a mixed-use neighbourhood with retail and housing. “Brooklyn was the borough with the highest unemployment,” says Zamperla, “and Bloomberg wanted to to do something to help, by rejuvenating Coney Island.”
By July 2009, the City had passed a Coney Island re-zoning plan, enabling the development of the brand new Luna Park which opened in May 29, 2010. It has 19 attractions, all designed and manufactured by Zamperla.

But the Coney Island contact wasn’t all plain sailing: “When we arrived, people had been putting up buildings without permits and we had to reclaim the area, install metres and take over the bars, restaurants and amusements on the boardwalk,” says Zamperla.

“There were protests and teething problems with local troublemakers and the police had to guard the area at night, but things gradually improved and today the area has been transformed.”

Hurricane Sandy hit hard: “We were overwhelmed by dirty, salty water and sewage,” says Zamperla. “We realised we’d have to rewire and replaster to avoid problems cropping up in the season – and we’d it done by March.”

Today, Luna Park continues to develop, with new investment planned. Zamperla says: “We’re adding a thunderball rollercoaster next. It’ll be open by May 2014 for the new season.”

 



The Italian company won the bid to manage the reinvented Luna Park at Coney Island in New York
 


Company founder Antonio (3rd from left) and son Alberto, on his right
 
The City of Venice has been welcoming tourists for a thousand years to enjoy its mystery and charm.
The City of Venice has been welcoming tourists for a thousand years to enjoy its mystery and charm. They’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a new addition, if Zamperla’s plans for a cultural hub and historical attraction come to fruition in 2017
The City of Venice has been welcoming tourists for a thousand years to enjoy its mystery and charm. They’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a new addition, if Zamperla’s plans for a cultural hub and historical attraction come to fruition in 2017
The attraction would include three areas: one explaining the history of the Venetian Laguna, the second a celebration of the history and the third, a year round Mardi Gras
The attraction would include three areas: one explaining the history of the Venetian Laguna, the second a celebration of the history and the third, a year round Mardi Gras
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Profile
Alberto Zamperla

The Italian entrepreneur is getting international attention for his plans to build a new cultural visitor attraction in the heart of Venice. He talks to Liz Terry

By Liz Terry | Published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 1

Alberto Zamperla’s passion for Venice is infectious – the history, politics, philosophy and sheer energy of the Venetians through the centuries have captivated and inspired him.

When news broke about his audacious proposal to build an attraction in Venice, the world’s media pounced and magazine and newspaper headlines screamed “theme park plan for Venice”, with reports rather disparagingly calling Zamperla – head of third-generation Italian ride manufacturer Antonio Zamperla SpA – a ‘fairground designer’.

Historians were up in arms at the prospect of a theme park inappropriately located in this jewel of a city, but the reality of Zamperla’s plan is different in intent from the media scaremongering and he puts forward a robust case when we sit down to talk.

His dream is to create a cultural hub to welcome visitors and celebrate the history and culture of Venice. “Lots of people don’t understand how the city came to be”, he says, “so we plan to tell the story of Venice and to celebrate and record its culture and traditions”.

If permission is given, the attraction will be built on San Biagio Island in the Venetian Lagoon, just a 300m, eight-minute boat ride from the city’s rail and cruise ship connections.

Previously used as the location for a rubbish incinerator, the land – which is owned by the state of Italy – has lain unused and badly contaminated for many years, to the point that Zamperla estimates he would need to spend E8m (US$11m, £6.5m) to clean the site before development work on the attraction could begin.

The way ahead
His first challenge is to establish a need: with so much history on view, surely a visitor attraction would be an unnecessary and artificial intrusion? But Zamperla argues that in spite of its splendours Venice fails to offer an experience which meets the needs of today’s tourists and that the city is sorely in need of a gateway attraction.

“Where can you go in Venice to learn about its history?” he says. “The Italians love history – Venetians love history – and we want to give them the chance to find out more about this amazing place.

“Imagine a city that for 1,000 years has never been occupied – and furthermore, has been democratic the entire time,” he says. “This is something to celebrate, because Venice shows the power of people working together and there are great lessons – that are still relevant today – to be learned from the past.

“For example, when a new Doge [chief magistrate] came to power in Venice, he was democratically elected and at the time of his appointment, the Venetian commissioners assessed his wealth. When he died, they estimated it again and if it had increased, the difference was confiscated by the government. This meant that if the Doge benefitted financially from his time in power, his family had to give the money back: what a great example to politicians today! We want to share this kind of history.”

The way forward
Initial planning permission is being sought for the creation of a four-hectare park which will be divided into three areas, as Zamperla explains: “The first area will be dedicated to the Venetian Laguna (Lagoon), which was very important in creating the way of life of the Venetians and protecting the city. We want to look at its strategic importance and also its traditions: inside the Laguna there are 50 different methods of fishing, for example, and we need to record them for posterity.”

The second area will focus on the history of Venice in past centuries, when it played a pivotal role in Europe, and will feature subjects such as the Battle of Lepanto in 1561, when the Republic of Venice, as a member of the Holy League, took on and defeated Suleiman the Magnificent.

The third area, says Zamperla, will be about Venice’s famous Mardi Gras. “We’re going to celebrate it all year round,” he says. “There will be people with masques and music and a recreation of the magic of the festival.”

Very much on-trend, there will also be a big wheel, giving views of Venice and – says Zamperla – the development will have a substantial theatre “because Venice is missing a theatre”.

The project must be self-financing, so will include paid-for leisure attractions along with the heritage and museum elements, with ticket prices yet to be set.

Phase two of the scheme – another carrot for the planners – will involve the redevelopment of a nearby area of wasteland as a garden: “In Venice there’s a lack of places to relax that are green and beautiful,” says Zamperla, “We’ll rent the land from the state, create a garden, take care of the security and cleaning and open it for public use. Running a city like Venice is very expensive and the city’s only park is dirty and badly run. Ours will be beautiful.”

University partnership
With so much historical accuracy required to realise the vision, Zamperla turned to academia for support, agreeing a partnership with Professor Carlo Carraro, the magnifico rettore [chancellor] at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. The project is a joint venture between Zamperla and the university.

This tie-up gives the scheme heavyweight backing, which it appears will be necessary as Zamperla prepares to do battle with those who are set against it: ”Objections are coming only from the intellectuals,” he says. “After we went public, those organisations whose aim is to keep traditions alive and to stop things changing came out against it – but we’ve also had good support for the project, so we’re going to press on and present it.”

The scheme is well advanced for this reason: “I had the vision two years ago,” says Zamperla, but we had to keep it a secret, because we didn’t want to give our enemies time to attack. Politicians are not brave, they wait for the opinion of the public – it’s frustrating.”

I ask if the project has a champion within the government? Zamperla says it does, but would rather not give names, although the fact it’s estimated to have the potential to create 500 jobs and involve an investment of E80m (US$110m, £66m) may go some way towards persuading them.

Planning permission
“We’re building this cosmopolitan centre in an area that was a dump – a brownfield site,” says Zamperla. “Under the city’s zoning I can create an amusement development there and it will improve the area. We don’t need planning permission to do that, just a building permit to go ahead with it.”

The biggest potential obstacle is the unknown nature of the ground and the not insignificant matter of the cleanup costs: “At the moment, we’re checking how much cleaning we need to do and how much weight we can put on the land,” says Zamperla. “As I said previously, we estimate it will cost E8m just to clean the ground, but if we discover it’s going to be more than that, unfortunately that will scupper the project and we won’t be able to do it.

“We’re getting on with construction drawings,” he says. “We want to push on with the scheme and do it quickly. The plan is to open for Mardi Gras 2017 if things go well, it would be a two-year project – a year to create the plan and a year to build it, because construction takes longer here, for obvious reasons.”

How many visitors?
Zamperla’s estimate of 500,000 visitors a year will be based on all transportation being done by boat, given the island’s proximity to Venice’s transport hub: “Over 20 million tourists visit Venice each year,” he says, “three million of these come by cruise liner and will disembark 300m from us, so 500,000 visitors isn’t a big percentage of that total. We believe it’s achievable.”

Venice is one of the only cities in the world that could contemplate delivering half a million return trips a year by water taxi, and Zamperla has done a deal with the water ferry operator: “We have an agreement with them to bring people by boat – this is the company from the municipality that’s in charge of water transportation,” he says. “They’re happy with the deal, as it will help them optimise their capacity and yield.”

I ask Zamperla how disappointed he’d be if the Venetian project doesn’t go ahead and he’s both philosophical and realistic, saying: “I passionately believe in the project and it would be a dream to make it happen, but I’m also a realist, and if at any time it becomes unviable, we’ll walk away from it.” Whether the project goes ahead or not, it's exciting to see attractions industry businesses stepping up with such ambitious ideas and not being afraid to go after them.

Elsewhere in the Zamperla empire

Antonio Zamperla Spa is a theme park industry veteran, heading up one of the only truly global ride design and manufacturing businesses.

The company has a network of eight offices around the world and in addition to designing rides for the major theme park operators, also has the contract to manage two attractions in New York City, the Victorian Gardens in Central Park and – since 2010 – the world famous Luna Park in Coney Island.

I suggest to Zamperla that these two management contracts are a well-kept secret and he explains the twists of fate which brought his business to be working with [now former] New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“My son went to the US to open an office,” he says, “and came to the attention of city officials who invited us to tender for the management of Victoria Gardens.” The company won the bid and city officials were sufficiently impressed to issue a further invitation when the tender came up to run the newly reconstructed Luna Park in 2010.

“We encountered protests when we won the Coney Island contract,” says Zamperla. “Some Americans said ‘why do we want these Italians here?’ But Bloomberg said he believed we’d do a good job – he stood by us.”

“Coney Island was the site of the first Luna Park in 1903,” says Zamperla. “It’s an historic location. The Luna Parks were a romantic notion from the novels of Jules Verne and are based on the mystery of the trip to the moon: the opening of the Luna Park in Coney Island was followed by others around the world, many of which are still operating today.”

The original park burned down and closed in 1944 to be replaced by other amusements. Then in 2005, the Coney Island Development Corporation published a revitalisation plan, with the intention of preserving and growing the historic amusement area and creating a mixed-use neighbourhood with retail and housing. “Brooklyn was the borough with the highest unemployment,” says Zamperla, “and Bloomberg wanted to to do something to help, by rejuvenating Coney Island.”
By July 2009, the City had passed a Coney Island re-zoning plan, enabling the development of the brand new Luna Park which opened in May 29, 2010. It has 19 attractions, all designed and manufactured by Zamperla.

But the Coney Island contact wasn’t all plain sailing: “When we arrived, people had been putting up buildings without permits and we had to reclaim the area, install metres and take over the bars, restaurants and amusements on the boardwalk,” says Zamperla.

“There were protests and teething problems with local troublemakers and the police had to guard the area at night, but things gradually improved and today the area has been transformed.”

Hurricane Sandy hit hard: “We were overwhelmed by dirty, salty water and sewage,” says Zamperla. “We realised we’d have to rewire and replaster to avoid problems cropping up in the season – and we’d it done by March.”

Today, Luna Park continues to develop, with new investment planned. Zamperla says: “We’re adding a thunderball rollercoaster next. It’ll be open by May 2014 for the new season.”

 



The Italian company won the bid to manage the reinvented Luna Park at Coney Island in New York
 


Company founder Antonio (3rd from left) and son Alberto, on his right
 
The City of Venice has been welcoming tourists for a thousand years to enjoy its mystery and charm.
The City of Venice has been welcoming tourists for a thousand years to enjoy its mystery and charm. They’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a new addition, if Zamperla’s plans for a cultural hub and historical attraction come to fruition in 2017
The City of Venice has been welcoming tourists for a thousand years to enjoy its mystery and charm. They’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a new addition, if Zamperla’s plans for a cultural hub and historical attraction come to fruition in 2017
The attraction would include three areas: one explaining the history of the Venetian Laguna, the second a celebration of the history and the third, a year round Mardi Gras
The attraction would include three areas: one explaining the history of the Venetian Laguna, the second a celebration of the history and the third, a year round Mardi Gras
 


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Leisure Media, Portmill House, Portmill Lane,
Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2019

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
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