For 25 years, Danny Brand ran a seasonal winter wonderland in tropical Miami, Fla. — now he’s bringing it to the Arizona desert.
He’s spent the last 18 months building Santa’s Park, a temporary holiday theme park that will stretch about a mile along the dry Firebird Lake, next to Firebird International Raceway in the Gila River Indian Community. The park, scheduled to run Nov. 16 to Jan. 8, will have nearly two dozen holiday displays as well as live shows. Organizers also are bringing over about 50 of the 70 State Fair rides.
The project has taken Brand about three years to complete. He spent 25 years running a similar facility in Miami before retiring as executive vice president of Santa’s Enchanted Forest there.
But retirement, he said, didn’t take.
"This is truly my pleasure," Brand said. "I love this."
The park’s exhibits are inspired by department store window displays Brand saw growing up in St. Louis. and are carved by sculptor Jose Duarte, known for his work on "It’s a Small World" at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
He settled on Arizona for the weather and large number of families. He struck a deal with track officials, who lease their land from the Gila River community. "People thought I was out of my mind," Brand said.
He and the group of investors have a year-to-year agreement with Firebird and have spent thousands of dollars on utility infrastructure improvements.
"Santa plans on being here for a long time," said Michelle Zimmerman, a park spokeswoman.
Where: Southwest of Interstate 10 and Maricopa Road, next to Firebird International Raceway, south of Ahwatukee Foothills. When: 4 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 16 to Jan. 8. Cost: $23 for adults, $18 for seniors and children 10 and under. Admission includes all performances and rides.
• 23 holiday-themed displays
• 12 free shows nightly
• A giant gas-lit menorah, an 80-foot-tall main Christmas tree and 20 30-foot trees
• About 50 amusement park rides