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City to consider $130 million gondola project spanning Branson

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Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015 9:00 pm
    A new mode of transportation is being considered by the city of Branson, but it doesn’t involve buses. American Gondola hopes to provide a clean transportation alternative route spanning from downtown Branson to Silver Dollar City.
    American Gondola President and General Counsel Jeff Green met with the Branson Board of Aldermen Thursday to present the estimated $130 million project.
    Green explained that each gondola car would be enclosed and would hold eight people. The proposed route would have approximately 10 terminals spaced from the Branson Landing area to Silver Dollar City. The terminals offer different stops along the route. A maintenance terminal — capable of housing 200 gondola cars — was proposed to be located in the undeveloped lots near Tanger Factory Outlets, Green said.
    The gondola cars would move at about 15 miles per hour, making a round trip in an estimated one hour and 20 minutes, Green said. The gondola has the potential of moving 3,000 people each way per hour, he said.
    American Gondola would operate 10-and-a-half months out of the year, Green said.
    The transportation system would be entirely electric with back up diesel generators as well as a manual hand crank, Green said.
    Winds up to 35 miles per hour have no affect on the gondola, Green said. Winds between 35 and 50 miles and hour would slow the system down.
    The aldermen are considering signing a memorandum of understanding between the city and American Gondola in the value of between $12-15 million to assist the company in some capacity. The project would be “privately funded with the minimal assistance from the city,” Green said. American Gondola would partner with Leitner-Poma, of Europe.
    The project is expected to produce between 50-60 full-time jobs, Green said.
    Alderwoman Cris Bohinc expressed some reservations.
    “We want to get excited but at the same time, we have to be cautious,” Bohinc said.
    If the project moves forward, Green estimates construction would take between 18 months to two years.
    After their presentation, American Gondola Vice President of Marketing Kenneth Thornton and Vice President of Engineering Clark Thompson joined the conversation.
    Rather than adding something like a bus route, Green said gondolas would make travel more of an entertainment feature.
    “For anyone who has ridden a bus and has stood at a bus stop knows it’s frustrating,” Green said. “It would bring something to Branson that is more than just transportation.
 “The view from up there (would) be incredible — just breathtaking.”
    “You could see all the venues, all the businesses, decide where you want to stop at — so it’s really good for the businesses,” Thompson added.
    The gondola cars would be ADA accessible, Thompson said.
    When constructing something as expensive as this project, Thornton said American Gondola wants to guarantee riders.
    “You’ve got your base,” Thornton said. “It’s not like you’re building it and hoping they will come.”
    In the past 20 years or so, there were talks of starting a gondola system, but they never came to fruition, Thornton said.
    “You sell no wine before its time and you build no gondola before its time,” Thornton said. “The thing that really made this thing look better is that Branson is already looking at aesthetic improvements on highway 76 and the gondola just fits perfect.
    “Everything just seems to have fallen in place,” Green added.
    The board of aldermen will discuss the gondola project at a future meeting.

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