BRANSON, Mo. — A proposed aerial gondola that would take Branson visitors to key destinations and alleviate traffic congestion is set to come before the Branson Board of Aldermen next week.
The board is expected to vote Tuesday on a memorandum of understanding that could advance the project, estimated to cost $160 million to $200 million, said Branson Mayor Karen Best, who noted that she supports the project.
While details are still being worked out, a preliminary plan would have the network stretch more than eight miles from Branson Landing to Silver Dollar City. There would be an entry and exit point and then 10 stops along the way planned near attractions and parking garages. The goal is to allow tourists to park their cars, ride a gondola all day to various attractions and not have to walk more than a quarter of a mile, said Jeff Green, president of American Gondola, a Missouri company proposing the development.
A car would carry 8 to 12 people because Branson attracts a lot of family visitors, Green said, and there would be 400 to 600 cars operational all the time.
The project, which would be one of Branson’s biggest investments, would be the largest aerial gondola in the United States, Green said.
“We are looking at it as a transportation project,” Green said. “Highway 76 is well known for needing a solution to its traffic. We can put this in, stay above the fray, not interrupt any traffic, and transport a significant number of people. But when we match that with tourism in the area … this would be an attraction itself.”
Aerial gondolas are mostly used in Europe, Asia and South America, although there are a few in the United States such as one to Roosevelt Island in New York, for example. Those gondolas are on a much smaller scale, said Green.
The project’s investors are not asking the city for money, but they are outlining a few conditions:
• A guarantee of a five-year noncompete for other aerial gondola projects.
• An agreement for the city to share plans for additional development and attractions because the company would like to build its terminals near significant attractions.
“Cooperation with the city is a no-brainer. We need to know where the terminals should be placed so if there are any new parking garages, new entertainment, we want to build a terminal nearby. Once they (terminals) are in, they are in, so we are taking our time in the planning process,” Green said.
• Easements needed for the project. Most the easements would involve land the city owns, but if the company had difficulty obtaining land from a private individual, it is asking the city to use eminent domain.
If the project moves forward, the next steps are the design phase and a study to see if the market would support it.
The goal is to start construction in early 2018 with completion in 2020.
Costs are still being worked out but as of now a full-day pass would cost $15 per person; $20 for a two-day pass; $24 for a three-day pass; and $30 for a week.
There would be special prices and monthly or yearly passes for residents who could use the gondola as a form of public transportation; the cost would be aligned with traditional public transportation, Green said.
The project has stirred a tremendous amount of interest, Best said.
“The comments we received from the public is about the gondola being overhead and that some people will be afraid to ride it because it is a height concern. They are just afraid of heights and think other people are going to be afraid of heights and not ride it,” Best said.
American Gondola is looking to a Swiss venture capital firm for the bulk of its funding. The project would be built and operated by Leitner-Poma, a subsidiary of France-based Poma, which has expressed an interest in becoming a partner in the project, Green said.
“They intend, if we go forward, to make it a world showcase for them so people can say this is what an urban aerial gondola is capable of,” he said.