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Full speed ahead at the Point

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LEHI — Thanksgiving Point managers aren't scaling down their plans to become a world destination resort just because the economy looks shaky and America could be headed to war.

In fact, they're pulling out all of the stops — announcing a high-end mall project on the south side Thursday and planning to announce hotel development on the north side within the next few weeks.

"We want to be the center of people's universe. Thanksgiving Point is a resort. While Thanksgiving Point has been on a development fast-track during its first five years of existence, the volume and direction of our expansion as a full-fledged resort over the next five years will be even greater. We will act like a resort; we will grow like a resort; we will entertain like a resort; we will house guests like a resort; we will invite outside investors to participate like a resort. We are a resort," said Tom Pugh, president of the Thanksgiving Point Institute, as he unfolded the plans for the next five years.

"I believe we'll escape the impacts (of a downturn). Already, where everyone else has had a downturn, we have stayed level in our attendance numbers."

Paul Eddington, public relations spokesman for the ambitious combination golf course/gift emporium/gardens and greenhouse center in north Lehi, says the now fully open dinosaur museum is way ahead of its projected numbers and Thanksgiving Point has now expanded from 380 acres to nearly 800.

The city of Lehi has just approved a special resort zone for Thanksgiving Point, which, according to Eddington, is only the third such designation in the country. One of the other two belongs to Disneyland in Anaheim.

The new zoning frees Thanksgiving Point to add amusement and entertainment venues such as expansive fairgrounds, a performance auditorium and a variety of additional venues at will.

It will also protect the integrity of the area from an invasion of quickie stores and gas stations, he said.

At the same time Thanksgiving Point is expanding its core, Pugh said he is pursuing a number of partnership agreements to add two malls to the south end and a hotel complex on the north.

Through the partnership agreements, Thanksgiving Point will maintain control of all of the property from the 1200 West freeway exit to the the Highland/Alpine exit but will not have day-to-day operational responsibility.

That means the "Port of Utah" mall and the hotels may be open on Sundays, something Alan and Karen Ashton, founders of Thanksgiving Point, have not wanted to permit on Thanksgiving Point property proper.

The "Port of Utah" pedestrian mall, directly south of the North American Museum of Natural History, will feature a large open river running through it with boat rides offered for tourists, a 12-screen theater, a number of higher end restaurants and top name department stores.

A smaller mall farther south will sport mainstream consumer businesses like Target and Wal-Mart, Pugh said.

Upscale condos will be added to the golf course area.

A 36-acre fairgrounds complex complete with pavilions and a horseshoe-shaped parade road is already under construction, and the framework for the 25,000-square-foot "Barn" is up, just west of the Animal Park.

Pugh hopes the shaded, sodded and power-ready grounds will attract not only the Utah County Fair but perhaps the Utah State Fair.

The Barn will serve as a hosting center and stage for professional dinner theater, beauty pageants, convention meetings and rental space for special functions with seating up to 1,000.

"What we really want to have happen is if anything good is going to happen in Utah County, it's at Thanksgiving Point. We've put this together to really be a plan for the future," Pugh said. "This will put Lehi on the map. The city really wins with this."

Lehi Mayor Ken Greenwood said Lehi is extremely pleased with Thanksgiving Point. "They are doers and not just sayers," said Greenwood. "Different from some folks, they put their money where their mouth is. They're making it happen."

Greenwood said while it will be financially pleasant to have sales tax dollars coming from the new malls, Thanksgiving Point has a lot of residual benefits from being a high-quality development.

"I don't believe we'd be getting the kind of mall we're getting without them," he said.

"What's scary is, I'm starting to believe. They envision themselves as the number one attraction in the state, and I think they're going to become that."

E-MAIL: haddoc@desnews.com