Published: 10:27, 15 April 2014
Fourteen years after children first got to feel what it is like to operate heavy machinery, construction-themed adventure park Diggerland is opening across the pond.
Set to open next month, Diggerland USA is expected to attract nearly one million visitors a year to its 14-acre home behind a waterpark in West Berlin, New Jersey.
The £5m project is the realisation of a long-held ambition for owner and HE Group chairman Hugh Edeleanu, who originally wanted to press ahead several years ago but was halted by the recession.
He opened the first Diggerland in Strood in April 2000, expanding to three other sites in Devon, Yorkshire and Durham.
He said: “We have been looking overseas for many years.
“We were going to open up one in North America just before the recession but we had to put that on hold.
“Now North America is doing very well and it’s the ideal market because it’s very family orientated.
“We know it will be a successful country for us. It was just a question of waiting to come out of the recession.”
Construction work got underway six months ago in New Jersey but its completion has been reliant on the production of a series of rides and parts manufactured in Kent.
Diggerland’s sister company Masterhitch – based in the Medway City Estate in Strood – tasked 10 workers to make the rides over three months, which has been shipped out to the US in 10 giant containers.
Producing more than 50 units, the process covered major rides like the Sky Shuttle and Spin Dizzy down to the steps to access the machines.
Despite having drawings used for Diggerland parks in the UK, many of the rides had to be revamped, mainly to fit the rides into the containers for trans-Atlantic crossing.
Hugh said: “Our staff have been working frantically. Everyone has got American flags. It has been interesting and exciting but also really hard work.”
Set to feature more than 20 attractions and about 35 JCB machines, the USA park could have a strong employment impact in Kent if it’s successful.
Hugh has plans to expand the Diggerland brand across the USA, which means more equipment will be manufactured in the county.
He said: “We are hoping this is going to be the first of many in North America.
“I’m sure it will do well and rolling on from there we will be able to make more activities and more rides as we go to other locations throughout the States.”
He will not be drawn on a timescale for the expansion plans.
Hugh said: “We really want to see how this one goes. In the UK all the rules and regulations are the same but in America they vary between states.
“Some states are much harder on fairground rides and activities while some are easier. That will partly govern where we go next.
“We haven’t got any definitive plans but we want to get through six months of having the first one open before we plan a second one.”
Diggerland USA is set to open in New Jersey in the third week of May.
Construction work should finish by the end of April.
Ten shipping containers carrying rides and equipment made in Medway are being shipped to the USA now.
The project has cost £5m and been in planning for three and a half years.
Expected to attract 1m visitors a year along with sister park Sahara Sam’s Oasis.
Director of marketing and PR Chris Peters said: “The project has received tremendous buzz in the United States.
“The public is beyond excited for the park to open – it’s such a new experience in the US.
“The first installation of JCBs has arrived and we expect the remainder of the equipment to arrive from the UK any day.”