Company planning Branson gondola system answers community concerns

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BRANSON, Mo. It's a mass transit system and tourist attraction all in one. We told you a year ago about plans for an urban gondola system in Branson. It would span an 8 1/2 mile route from Brason Landing, following the 76 Strip, and continuing all the way to Silver Dollar City. "It would help people get up and down 76 a lot easier without having to park their cars, walk, sit in traffic for hours at a time," says Jeff Green, president of American Gondola Inc.

American Gondola has been discussing the plan with private businesses, but Monday, focused on informing the public during informal meetings at Shindigs Restaurant in Branson. The final meeting is at 6:30 PM.

"Oh, I think it's neat. We need something that will help with traffic, and something different for Branson that not most towns have," says Branson resident Carolyn Emmert.

The system would have about a dozen terminals where passengers load and unload, with the gondola cars traveling 60 to 80 feet in the air. "So we're not going to be impacting the ground or the traffic or anything else. Airway easements is mostly what we're looking for," says Green.

Each gondola car would hold about 8 to 12 people, and American Gondola says they hope to initially have about 400 cars gliding through the air at about 10 to 15 miles an hour.

"I think they're going to want to ride it just to say that they did, but I know a lot of people don't like being stuck in traffic for so long, so I think people will take advantage of that too," says Branson resident Eric Hodge.

American Gondola is asking the city to sign a memorandum of understanding and donate some easements on city property along the strip, but plans to fund the $160 to 200 million project all privately. "We will in fact, have all the money up front to build this before we start construction," says Green. The company is gathering signatures on a petition encouraging the city to sign the memorandum.

Green says one of the most common concerns is about the success of the gondola system once built. "We will make sure and provide some kind of performance guarantee that we will operate, and if not, we'll end up having to remove the entire project. We wouldn't want to leave something like this in the Branson community not operating," Green says.

"I'm convinced this gondola project is going to bring in more tourists, it's going to help people get from one end of town to the other, and I think it's going to be an attraction," says Hodge.

The company hopes to sign a memorandum of understanding with the city by the end of the year or early next, then secure funding and do some final engineering. They'd like to start construction by late 2017 or early 2018.