Thrill rides, action sports among ideas for Gilroy Gardens

Developers submit proposals for Hecker Pass property

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RECREATION DESTINATION A map from Select Contracts’ proposal submitted to the City of Gilroy shows the addition of hillside and surf parks to Gilroy Gardens. Image: Select Contracts

Gilroy Gardens could look very different in the next decade if one of two developers’ proposals were to move forward.

The City of Gilroy received two proposals from Las Vegas-based Imagine That! and Select Contracts of Canada that would transform the horticulture park if approved.

The city has been seeking proposals for the “Hecker Pass Highway Tourism and Recreation Development Opportunity” since Nov. 16. The 20-page RFP document describes the 536-acre property on Hecker Pass Highway as well as the city’s goals to “establish Gilroy as the top family-oriented outdoor recreation destination in the San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Central Coast.”

Submissions were due Feb. 12.

In a 60-page document, Imagine That! outlines its experience in designing theme park attractions across the globe over the past three decades, which includes work on various Las Vegas shows and at parks such as Disneyland and Universal Studios.

In its proposal, Imagine That! representatives wrote that Gilroy Gardens is in need of a “complete reinvention” to meet the city’s ambitions for the site.

“After 20 years of underperformance, it is clear that Gilroy Gardens has failed to achieve sustainable market penetration into the Bay Area region,” the proposal reads. “Plans of tweaking or extending existing elements within Gilroy Gardens are misguided and unlikely to accelerate attendance growth to the levels required.”

While not offering specifics in their proposal, the developer said the park needs to have a competitive edge over other regional parks, such as California’s Great America in Santa Clara and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. It can accomplish this through capital investment in the “mid-nine figures,” the proposal reads, with the “latest rides,” “unique contemporary experiences” and a commercial presence that captures the popularity of film, television and other entertainment franchises.

Imagine That! also proposed “Gravity Gilroy” on the adjacent hillside, which could be used for “adrenaline-charged gravity sports” such as mountain biking and zip lining.

“Our approach may be different from that expected by the City of Gilroy,” Imagine That! President Rick Harbour wrote in the submission. “However, your ambition to create a project that will establish Gilroy as the top family-oriented outdoor recreation destination in the San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Central Coast’ sets the high bar—correctly recognizing the site’s amazing potential.”

Select Contracts’ proposal adds to its plan that was previously presented to the Gilroy City Council in 2019.

Gilroy Gardens’ board of directors hired Select Contracts in 2017 to study the feasibility of an “adventure park” located on the 350 acres of mountainside behind the gardens.

The proposal would construct a number of hiking and biking trails throughout the mountainside at various skill levels. A chair lift, located at the base of Gilroy Gardens, would take guests up to the summit, where they could experience four zip lines down the mountain. A restaurant is also proposed for the summit, with a smaller café planned for the base of the mountain.

A ropes course is also in the proposal.

The updated proposal includes the addition of a “surf park” near the entrance to Gilroy Gardens, complete with surf and wakeboard pools and cabins for out-of-town guests.

Select Contracts estimates its proposal could be operational within four years if approved.

Select Contracts, founded in 1978, builds and operates a variety of recreational parks throughout the world.

“By combining the mountain adventure sports world with the water action sports, Gilroy will become a destination like no other in the world,” the company wrote in the proposal. “The adjacency to other mountain biking areas and famous surf breaks will encourage destination visitation from around the world, as keen athletes and budding participants alike chase some of the world’s most unique experiences.”

City officials are scheduled to interview the respondents during the week of March 8. A selection panel is expected to make a recommendation to the city council for consideration at a future meeting.