BRANSON, Mo. — The Branson Board of Aldermen has approved a memorandum of understanding to show that the city is behind America Gondola, a private business looking to bring an aerial gondola system to the entertainment center.
There was a 5-1 vote in favor of the project, but the board had unanimous concerns, Branson Mayor Karen Best said. The final draft of the memorandum did not guarantee the city would use eminent domain in order to secure space for the company.
"(Eminent domain) is the last resort any city likes to exercise," Best said. "We are very sensitive to our community when we say we would "absolutely" use eminent domain."
The city also asked that the company secure funds so that if the project were to fail, the city would have the money to remove its infrastructure, as to "not be a blight on the area," Alderman Mike Booth said.
"The city is not to be financially obligated in any way for the gondola," Booth said.
One alderman, Rick Todd, voted against the memorandum of understanding, though he said he is supportive of the project. Todd said he wanted the guarantee of the performance bond to be in the memorandum, and not in future dealings when the company came back in front of the planning and zoning commission.
"My concern is that this is a high-risk venture, they go in and fail, and then there's cables all over the countryside and we get stuck," Todd said.
The memorandum doesn't tie the city to the project in any way other than it cements the city's interest, Jeff Green, American Gondola president, said. The design of the $150 million to $200 million project is not quite finished, but Green estimated that he would collect 10 percent of its total cost to satisfy the board's concern.
As for eminent domain, Green said the company would need the city to be prepared to procure an air easement if need be. Though the project strives to stay away from residential areas, the city might have to use eminent domain on the 60 to 80 feet above a home.
"It's a little different," Green said. "We are not looking at throwing Grandma out of her house."
Green said the project, which would have two main towers and 10 stops in between, would stay close to businesses and entertainment centers. The network is meant to be a form of transportation for Branson tourists and residents, who have historically had to deal with traffic congestion.
Best said the project, like the attraction, appeals to different people within the community.
"I know for sure my mother will not be riding it, because she's afraid of heights," Best said. "I, on the other hand, will be one of the first ones on."
Both city officials and Green agreed that the project has a long way to go before offering its first ride.
Aerial gondola network
The goal of the aerial gondola network 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. A car would carry eight to 12 people and there would be 400 to 600 cars operational all the time.