Mark Fuhriman dreams of seeing the downtowns of four Utah County cities redeveloped as European-style theme villages, each with authentic architecture, decor and cultural events, representing four major cultures of Europe.
The local community development consultant says the idea could draw a million new visitors and $200 million in new tourist revenue to Utah annually.The theme-village idea isn't new colonial Williamsburg, Va., is perhaps the best known example but the idea of developing a Little Europe in Utah County may seem farfetched to some.
Fuhriman says it shouldn't. He believes Utah County cities are well-suited for the concept because they lie along the Wasatch Front a major population center. Their small-town business districts could be easily adapted to such a project, and the theme-villages could build upon Utah's already established base as a vacation destination.
He envisions Springville redeveloped as a Scandinavian village, Pleasant Grove as Swiss-Austrian, Lehi as a village of the British Isles, and Spanish Fork as representing the Mediteranean cultures of France, Italy and Spain.
The four cities could follow the pattern of Solvang, Calif., a city of 3,500 located 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles in the Santa Ynez Valley, Fuhriman said. In the early 1960's when Solvang was faced with a declining traditional economy, city business leaders decided to redevelop the town's business district in an authentic Danish motif.
Now Solvang, which lies neither on the coast nor on a freeway, draws 2 million vistors a year to its 16th-century Danish village, Fuhriman said. While a Little Europe in Utah County would not draw that many tourists, a half-million visitors per village per year is not unrealistic, he believes.
Fuhriman has been pitching the concept to the four cities for the past eight months, and claims 95 percent of those he has contacted react positively.
"It's an ideal way for a small town to have a strong economy while remaining a small town," he said. "The visitors come and spend an average pf $100 to $200 each per day in shops, restaurants and cultural attractions. But they don't stay, so the small town stays small."
Fuhriman has been approaching both business people and the municipal governments of the four towns to sell the concept. But he is not asking for political support or government help. The projects would be private business ventures. Fuhriman would make his money by acting as a consultant to business owners who renovate their properties.
"The bottom line is, this is up to the business people and community-minded people," he said. "If and when they want it, it will happen. It can't be forced. It's the cultural character and charm that make it work."
The projects would begin slowly, with perhaps one or two downtown business owners renovating their buildings in the chosen theme-village motif. As others did the same over three or four years, the project would mature and eventually be complete, Fuhriman said.