Remember Judge Roy Hofheinz? He's Houston's one-man answer to P.T. Barnum, William Zeckendorf and Clint Murchisonthe developer extraordinary whose projects always seem to start with a thud, then prosper with a vengeance. His Astrodome, for example. Hailed as "the Eighth Wonder of the World," the air-conditioned stadium began with a clear plastic roof. Baseball players lost fly balls in the glare, so the dome was painted. Then sunlight could not reach the grass, which withered, so artificial turf was laid down. Now everybody is happy.
And now Hofheinz has a new spectacular: Astroworld. It opened last week, a 57-acre amusement park near Houston's Astrodome and still another of Hofheinz' ventures, a convention center called Astrohall. Yes, it rained on opening day. Such attractions as a simulated sleigh ride down the 65-ft.-high Der Hofheinzberg and most of the boats to carry visitors through a Lost World Adventure were not functioning. The next night, the Astrowheelthe world's first futuristic Ferris wheelgroaned to a halt, marooning 40 riders high above the action.
Grateful Godson. The first weekend's crowd of 50,000 people cared not a whit. They loved Astroworldjust the way the judge* knew they would. Hofheinz' goal is to create an area where the whole family can come for a week and never need leave. To this end, he has spent $16 million on fun rides like the swirling Black Dragon, a 340-ft.high Astroneedle, a frontier village and outdoor air conditioning. Moreover, he is not permitting any haphazard development on his Astro domain. The four-motel complex that will open this fall is owned by him (although leased to such moteliers as Howard Johnson and Holiday Inns), and so is the transportation system of small, gaudy "tramp trains" that will run between motels and amusement park. Later, Hofheinz plans to build more motels, two theaters, a museum, an automobile race track and an inland Sea-Arama.
All this should sound familiar. Astroworld is a godson of Disneyland. The late Walt Disney blessed Hofheinz' borrowed philosophy of fun for the family. "The Disneyland people helped us on Astroworld every time we asked," says the judge gratefully. "They suggested ways of doing things so we could avoid what they learned the hard way."
Runaway Train. What Hofheinz, Disney and other big developers are cashing in on is a remarkable phenomenon best described as the "Disneyland Effect." Stated simply, the thesis is that what's missing in urban life is a sense of fun, and that once a fun area is built, it proves to be a powerful, regenerative force that brings prosperity to the whole surrounding area.
The prototype is Disneyland itself. In its 13 years, the 70-acre, $100 million amusement park in Anaheim has become California's No. 1 tourist attraction: 7,900,000 visitors came last year. The constant influx has helped transform Anaheim from a small, dusty town set amid orange groves into a pleasant and bustling city. To cope with the tourists, 3,500 motel and hotel rooms have been built (Disney's own hotel has grown from 150 to 616 rooms) and restaurants have sprouted thick as asparagus outside the superpark's gates.