Jennifer Lawrence returns to the screen as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.” Photo: Lionsgate

‘Hunger Games’ theme park Avatron halts Bartow development

A planned Bartow County theme park featuring “The Hunger Games” as its main attraction won’t be going forward as planned.

Backers of Avatron Smart Park, once pitched as a $600 million-plus special effects-driven theme park near Lake Allatoona, said they will shut down their operations and will put development “on hold indefinitely,” the development company’s CEO David Garrett III wrote in an open letter to Bartow County. The Daily News Tribune in Cartersville first reported the news on Monday.

The project was first announced in early 2015, and in November of that year, the developers announced a deal with Lionsgate to bring to life attractions based on film series such as “The Hunger Games,” “Step Up” and “Now You See Me.”

The burden to develop the park fell to the Avatron partners, not Lionsgate. Avatron officials said at the time the company would license the film rights, but be responsible for finding investors and financing to make the park a reality.

Partners and siblings Jo and James Ram said in a November 2015 interview they hoped to close on the land, along Paga Mine Road near Cartersville, by the end of that year and break ground in early 2016 to open the first phase of the park in January 2019.

The land, totaling about 700 acres, is about 40 miles northwest Atlanta along I-75 near the Lakepoint Sporting Community & Town Center complex.

Bartow County Sole Commissioner Steve Taylor said Avatron’s decision was disappointing, as the project could have provided a jobs and tax revenue boost for the county. The county did not provide any incentives or infrastructure for the project, though such discussions might have occurred if Avatron had acquired the site.

But Taylor said he is hopeful the land will be attractive to other buyers for potential tourist or residential development.

“I feel bad for the people who worked so hard,” he said. “Mr. Garrett at Avatron was above board with all in the community and getting to know everyone.”

Garrett confirmed the news in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, including the letter dated Dec. 2.

In a letter, Garrett wrote, “After some 24 months of extensive planning and project fundraising, and despite near completion of Phase 1 project components, the AVATRON Park project is closing its doors.”

“Because of your tremendous and unwavering support of all things AVATRON, we pause to share with you the rationale for shutting down a project so near and dear to me and our team as well as Georgia and Bartow County residents,” said Garrett, a former chairman of the Georgia Lottery.

Financing appeared to be the stumbling block. In his statement, Garrett wrote “One of our key partners had to suspend its participation” at a key time.

“While many would encourage us to look at this as simply a timing situation, we are of the shared belief that no more time can be given or pushed back,” he said, according to the paper. “Therefore, the AVATRON project is being placed on hold indefinitely.”

“If this is goodbye, we thank you one last time for your generosity and belief in AVATRON,” the letter said. “If this is a ”not-yet” situation, then we thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Avatron officials hoped to ride the wave of popularity from the Hunger Games, which shot the second, third and fourth films in the series, in the Peach State. Other Lionsgate franchises that Avatron might have added included Divergent and Twilight and The Expendables, the Rams said at the time.

Georgia has become a hub for film and television production, trailing only California and New York in the U.S.

The developers said they were working on other content as well, including discussions with toy manufacturers and video game studios, but that Lionsgate would be the exclusive film partner.

“I think the park will have traditional rides, but the way they are envisioned is to have them ingrained in technology,” Jenefer Brown, Lionsgate senior vice president of location-based entertainment, said in 2015. Lionsgate also has a Hunger Games stage production in London and a zone within Motiongate Dubai, a Hollywood-styled theme park that’s under development in the United Arab Emirates.

Brown said Lionsgate picked Avatron in part because of Georgia’s booming film industry, its familiarity filming Hunger Games installments here and the location near the new LakePoint youth sports complex. It also wanted to be outside the congested theme park market of Florida.

Related Georgia movie industry stories:

Hollywood in Georgia: Georgia’s film business keeps booming

Studio plans keep coming despite doubts

These Atlanta sites were featured in “Hunger Games” series finale

This Atlanta landmark was a “Hunger Games” series favorite

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