(VENICE-AFP) - A top maker of amusement park rides unveiled a controversial project Wednesday to transform a "rubbish island" in Venice into a cultural attraction, insisting the floating city would not be blemished by a fun park.
The 80 million euro ($110 million) leisure centre "will not be an amusement park" with rides only, Alberto Zamperla of Zamperla told AFP as he explained the plan to transform the artificial island of San Biagio, an old dump site, into a theme park with a cultural slant.
Zamperla, the company behind two-thirds of the rides at Eurodisney in Paris, hopes to clean up four decades of rubbish on the four-hectare (nine acre) site at the entrance to the Giudecca Canal and transform it into a centre of fun, history and learning -- if it can get the necessary authorisation.
"We're talking about the history of Venice -- one of my passions -- but done my way," Zamperla said.
"I know what people like, I know my job. We have built theme parks in the US, Russia, Iraq, Mexico and North Korea, China and Thailand," he said.
Zamperla, who among others boasts turning Germany's Kalkar nuclear power plant into an amusement park and creating Denmark's popular Tivoli Gardens, has teamed up with Venice's Ca' Foscari University Foundation for this latest project.
The New-York based industrialist, who has a four-year concession for the land, has said he will turn the wasteground into an attraction capable of drawing 11,000 visitors a day within two years.
"We want it to be done well, for the project to have a solid grounding from a cultural and scientific point of view," said Carlo Carraro, the university's chancellor, who has been working with a multidisciplinary team tasked with reviving both natural habitat and history.
The researchers are looking into ways to salvage the island's fauna and flora as well as coming up with historical tours to narrate the founding of Venice and the evolution of the celebrated masked carnival held yearly in the canal city.
Plans for a big wheel, roller coasters, wagons shot at high speed across an artificial lake and life-sized reproductions of the famous galleons used in the battle between the Turks and the Venetians, have already sparked controversy.
"We are completely against it. I am not criticising the idea of renovating a degraded area. But we do not need more attractions, we have enough," Matteo Secchi from Venessia.com, which fights local issues, told AFP.
"Venice has other priorities. Its inhabitants are leaving, it has already become an amusement park," he said in reference to the number of Venetians moving out of the city, leaving it to the run of tourists.
City councillor Roberto Vianello, however, said he was in favour of refurbishing an area "where heavy metals and probably dioxins are building up, just 12 minutes by boat from St. Mark's Square, in the heart of Venice".
For the thrill rides giant, which began life near the floating city and went on to collaborate with Walt Disney, the project is "a real challenge."
Zamperla says the clean-up, construction and running of such a park would create at least 500 jobs.
But his critics say bringing even more tourists to a city which already struggles to deal with 500 million visitors a year is doing one of the world's most fragile heritage sites no favours at all.
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