BRANSON, MO (WSFA) - WSFA 12 News has been reporting for months on the Country Crossing Entertainment Extravaganza as it's being billed. The project is currently under construction just south of Dothan along U.S. Highway 231.
The $200 million project plans to feature current top selling country music stars, resort hotels, restaurants, a music themed water park, an amphitheater and electronic bingo. People often compare Country Crossing to another venue that's found a way to attract millions of visitors each year: Branson, Missouri.
Branson is set in some of the most naturally beautiful scenery imaginable. Surrounded by three large lakes with miles of deeply wooded shoreline, the city sits in the heart of the Ozark Mountain chain.
In town, tourists marvel at a $75 million Christian theater and it's production of Noah on a 26,000 sq. ft. stage. Everywhere you look there's a theater with live shows, and the stage curtain stays up day and night.
Visitors enjoy a full-sized theme park built over a cavern that's home to live stage performances and a hundred master craftsmen. Promoters boast there's something for everyone. "There's something unique around every corner and every tree path," said one tourist.
Year round, those millions often crowd the streets of historic downtown Branson with its unique shops and reminders of life in simpler times. Those downtown stores blend seamlessly into a new development with modern condos, hotels and shopping along the banks of Lake Taneycomo.
The remarkable thing is that Branson developed over five decades without a master plan. "Nobody invented Branson," said Chamber of Commerce President Ross Summers. "It grew up almost by accident."
Branson is, for all intents and purposes, in the middle of no where. Even Summers agrees, "It's hard to get here..." he said with a laugh. Branson lies in south Missouri only 12 miles from the Arkansas border, but that doesn't stop visitors from packing the 42 theaters in town that boast more seats than all of Broadway. This busy little town in the middle of no where can, and does, claim to be the 'Live performance capital of the country.'
So, with this out-of-the-way location, what's the secret to Branson's success? "It's hospitality," explained P.R. Director for the Chamber, "It's genuine Ozark hospitality."
"In the end it all comes down to the people...how you feel when you come to visit us," explained Mayor Raeanne Presley. "We may not be known as a hot spot," added Lisa Rau of Silver Dollar City, "but we are."
Visitors seemed to agree. One couple who drove down from Minnesota: "I love the scenery and the people," said one while the other added, "I like the shows...and I liked the drive down here."
668 miles away in Dothan, promoters of the Country Crossing Entertainment development say they, too were curious about Branson's success. "When we did our research, Branson kept coming up," said developer Ronnie Gilley, who was quick to add, "But we are not trying to copy-cat Branson. We are not trying to be Branson, Missouri."
So, how will Country Crossing be different from Branson? Wednesday night we'll talk about two major distinctions between the two: The entertainers who will perform in Dothan and the controversial element there, electronic bingo.