Flint Twp., MI— “WE ARE COMING BACK!” reads the opening sentence of a new webpage for Pirate’s Park, a long-closed theme park in Flint Township, Mich.
The website was set up by Danen Williams, a Flint optician who began fundraising to reopen the property earlier this year.
“There’s so many people ready to help us,” Williams said. “I think they’re just waiting for me to get far enough to prove that I’m worth helping.”
Williams said he had to prove himself to potential investors and supporters because this isn’t the first push to revive the 36-acre amusement park, which opened in the early ’90s and closed gradually through the mid-2010s.
In 2019, Flint Township was offered a $1.5 million grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to support reopening Pirate’s Park. The township ultimately turned down the grant in 2020 after a site assessment indicated the overall cost of the takeover could run around $10 million.
“It wasn’t good timing for us,” said Tracey Tucker, Flint Township’s Economic Enhancement Director, of the decision. “Financially, it was unsustainable for us—using taxpayer-funded dollars—to take on.”
Tucker said that though the township decided not to move forward, there was a lot of support for the project.
“The township had completed a study of residents and non-residents alike that asked how they felt about a park, would they support a park,” she said. “Usually when you do a survey, you might get 100 people to answer. We had, I think it was over 1,800 people.”
Tucker added that “over 70 percent” of the comments from the survey were positive.
Williams had been following the township’s grant story closely, and when planners pulled the plug, he wanted to know what happened.
“That was the burning question that got me into this whole thing,” he said.
Williams felt certain that if he opened the park in phases—starting with rehabbing the main building and opening the basic attractions like mini-golf and batting cages—he could do so with far less money than the township’s assessed cost.
“So I started harassing people with the county and Flint Township and ended up with the plans,” he said.
Williams said those plans showed that the assessed cost included getting the entire park opened within a year. That, he said, was a costly timeline that involved a lot of unprofitable structural work that isn’t immediately necessary if the park is opened with a piecemeal approach.
Tucker explained that the grants offered to Flint Township had deadlines and land sale requirements that won’t apply for a private developer like Williams.
“Where we would have been bound by the rules that govern the grants we would have taken, he will be able to open in segments in a more sustainable way,” she said, adding that she supports the project. “If he can get it reopened, it would benefit all of the businesses in the area.”
Williams laid out his gradual reopening plan at a recent Flint pitch event, telling the judges he hopes every kid will someday have a Pirate’s Park birthday.
Williams came in third place at the event and received $1,000 toward his estimated $3-million-dollar final goal. Though he didn’t take top prize, he said the experience showed him there is plenty of local support for the project.
“I think the community needs something like this,” he said, adding that he plans to ask supporters which parts of the park to rehab and open as funding allows.
“I want people to feel like they’re part of this project,” Williams said. “We’re going to be a nonprofit—open books—anyway, so I hope that people will want to be involved.”
Beyond pitch events, Williams has a GoFundMe listed on the park’s website to keep fundraising for the reopening. He said he has permission to start clearing debris in the coming weeks and will be hosting a virtual event in November as negotiations with the current property owners continue.
If all goes to plan, Williams said the grand reopening of Pirate’s Park will be held fall 2022 on Sept. 19.
“That’s ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day,'” he said.