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Särkänniemi: big plans for Finnish city park

Great things are in store for Finland’s second busiest amusement park as it approaches its 50th anniversary

Over the next few years, Särkänniemi in Tampere will welcome a themed hotel, indoor water park, fresh intellectual property (IP) and a unique new ‘Xplore Park’ concept. Not only this, the amusement park’s brand will soon be extended with an innovative project at a local hospital.

The €100 million master plan for the park’s expansion was given the green light this winter after being put on hold for two years due to the pandemic.

Feeling positive

Särkänniemi management
Ville Aarresuo & Miikka Seppälä

Located on a peninsula overlooking Lake Näsijärvi, the park enjoyed its best season ever with around 700,000 visits in 2019. Better even than 2012, when Särkänniemi debuted the world’s first Angry Birds Land. Given everything that has happened over the past two seasons, CEO Miikka Seppälä says he’s happy with 2021’s attendance: just short of 400,000.

“Last year, even with COVID, was surprisingly good. We survived by innovating new ways to operate and adding guest value, cutting costs and postponing anything that was not compulsory. But now we have the courage to proceed with our expansion plans.”

The master plan, which will change the business model of Särkänniemi, is expected to be completed in approximately five years.

“The world is still so unstable that you can’t really put an exact time on it,” says the park’s director of development, Ville Aarresuo.

Särkänniemi’s rides and attractions

Though it has existed as an amusement park since 1974, Särkänniemi can trace its roots back to 1969. Built on reclaimed land, which once functioned as a storage site for the local logging industry, the rides and attractions were predated by an aquarium.

The Násinneula observation tower and revolving restaurant opened in 1974 and remains an icon of the park to this day. A dolphinarium added in 1985 was closed in 2016 due to changing public tastes.

Särkänniemi_Hype
Hype

Today, Särkänniemi’s ride line-up includes five rollercoasters and two water rides.

These are Hype (Premier Rides Sky Rocket), Tornado (Intamin suspended coaster), Motogee (Zamperla MotoCoaster), Trombi (Zamperla flying coaster), Whirling Worm (Zierer family coaster), Log River (Reverchon) and Rapids (Intamin). Other major attractions include High Voltage (Power Surge), Boom (tower ride), X (swing ride) and Waka (Disk ’O’ Coaster), all by Zamperla, a Huss Take Off and Troika [pictured, top].

There are also popular staples like a wave swinger, Viking ship and bumper cars.

Operating very much in the ‘Tivoli’ model, guests can either pay individually for park admission and rides as they go, or buy an all-in-one wristband. The second option has increased in popularity since the pandemic. This also includes entry to the aquarium, observation tower and Doghill Fairytale Farm.

The latter is known to local visitors as Koiramäen eläinpuisto. It is a petting zoo that was renamed in 2013 following the integration of characters from the Koiramäki storybooks by Finnish author Mauri Kunnas

Moving to a year-round model  

Due to the local climate, the main park has a relatively short season (May to September). However, the aquarium, observation tower and an additional restaurant remain open year-round.

“One of the most important strategic objectives of our expansion plan,” says Seppälä, “is to become an all-year destination.”

Särkänniemi expansion_new approach from harbour
Rendering of the new approach from the harbour

The hotel, water park, Xplore Park and an additional indoor concept with the working title of Media World are key to that strategy. But first will come a new entrance and dining/entertainment boulevard approached from a new bridge over the harbour at the side of the park. Tampere’s answer to Universal’s CityWalk?

“Much smaller, more homely, more Särkänniemi,” says Aarresuo.

A master plan was previously prepared for Särkänniemi in 2012, in tandem with the launch of Angry Birds Land, by the US-based Bruce D Robinson Design Group. However, says Aarresuo, the park did not act on many of its proposals. The new master plan, prepared with Jora Vision, also calls for the reimagining of some existing areas of the park.

This dovetails with an ongoing regeneration plan for the urban area surrounding Särkänniemi, headed up by local firm Arkkitehdit MY. New housing, recreational spaces, cultural facilities and green areas are planned following the opening of the nearby Rantaväylä road tunnel in 2016.

A city park in more ways than one

Whilst it may be a city park, Särkänniemi’s location roughly 2km from the centre of Tampere means it has adequate room for expansion. Compare this to landlocked amusement parks in other Nordic cities such as Tivoli in Copenhagen, which has an above-average number of tower rides for a reason.

Yet the Tampere amusement park has something in common with Liseberg in Gothenburg. The Swedish park is currently in the midst of a huge expansion of its own, also including a hotel and indoor water park. But that’s not the only thing Liseberg shares with Särkänniemi. Both parks are ultimately municipally owned.

lake view at Särkänniemi

“Once in a while there is this political discussion,” says Aarresuo. “Is this really one of the city’s duties, to own an amusement park? Some people seem to think the city is pouring money into our pockets. But the money goes the other way round; we try to give money to the city from our profits. We are one of the main reasons people travel to Tampere.”

Whilst Särkänniemi may generate several local hotel stays, it does not yet have any overnight accommodation of its own. The themed hotel planned towards the left of the new entrance and the water park will have between 200 and 250 family rooms. It will have children’s beds that fold away for business travellers.

Water park, Xplore Park and Media World

The indoor water park will be connected to the hotel and feature pools, slides and attractions for all ages. Sound and light shows, projection mapping etc, will provide a constantly changing ambience. In addition, there will be outdoor pools and terraces for summer use.

The concept for the Xplore Park (working title) is currently being developed, housed inside the former dolphinarium building. It is described by Aarresuo as, “A kind of adult funhouse, with interactive elements, artistic elements, even horrifying elements. But nothing like Meow Wolf”.

Särkänniemi_expansion_size and investment scale

Another indoor offering will be Media World, featuring attractions based on intellectual property from Finnish public broadcaster YLE. A location for this has yet to be decided. It could possibly take over the Sara Hildénin Art Museum of the edge of the park, the collections from which are due to be moved to a new building.

In addition, there are plans for new attractions within the existing park. This includes a family roller coaster and a horror experience of some kind. Possibly a dark ride, or perhaps a maze with actors.

A place for ‘kids’ of all ages

Families will always be welcome at Särkänniemi. However, says Aarresuo, it makes business sense to reach out to a wider demographic.

“People have this impression that theme parks and amusement parks should always be for kids. But Finland is quite a limited market and we are actually running out of kids. The birth rates are not great! So we need to find new audiences. This is why we are focusing also on adults in the future.”

Särkänniemi_Tornado
Tornado

This year Särkänniemi will open its rides and attractions exclusively for over 18s during three music festivals. It is also hoped some student gatherings will be able to return to the park.

“The festivals have been really successful in the past,” says Aarresuo. “It turns out adults go crazy in an amusement park when there are no kids around!”

What’s more, they spend significantly more on food and drink than regular park guests. Other events planned later in the year include the annual Creepy Carnival and Doghill Christmas.

Angry Birds Land and the future of IP at Särkänniemi

It’s 10 years now since Angry Birds Land opened at Särkänniemi. The world’s first, and one of the largest, themed areas based on the hit game/app, it has truly been a Finnish success story.

Not only is brand owner Rovio from the country, so too is Lappset Creative, which installed the giant playground at the heart of the land. Also featured are a handful of family rides from Zamperla and some midway games.

Prior to the opening of Angry Birds Land, the park was entertaining around half a million guests a year. The international attention it attracted had a dramatic effect on attendance, boosting numbers in its first year by almost 200,000. The park has not yet made a decision on whether to extend the relationship with Rovio when the IP agreement is up for review in five years’ time.

Yet the positive experience with Angry Birds clearly gave park management the confidence to experiment with other IPs. For instance, Koiramäki and the upcoming partnership with YLE.

An amusement park in a hospital?

Särkänniemi recently embarked on a fresh collaboration with Lappset Creative. The company has designed and manufactured what is described as, “A mini Särkänniemi or small scale FEC.”

The €400,000 project will open this April as part of an upgrade to Tampere’s Tays Central Hospital. As well as Särkänniemi and Lappset, the OLVI drinks company and the Ingman ice cream firm have helped fund it.

“We came up with the idea four or five years ago,” says Aarresuo. “We thought, how could we do good other than the traditional method of giving tickets to charities? What if there was an amusement park in the hospital? The hospital management said it sounded crazy, but they liked it!”

Tays Hospital_Särkänniemi

Young patients, their families and visitors will be able to experience – for free – mini replicas of rides, games and attractions from the ‘real’ Särkänniemi. There will also be role-playing opportunities, such as a ticket seller or candy floss (cotton candy) vendor.

The play area will host birthday parties and visits from clowns and Santa Claus. None of the attractions will require electricity to run. All of them have been designed with total accessibility and inclusivity in mind.

“Kids have this natural need to touch and do things,” says Aarresuo. “It’s quite hard to fulfil those needs in a typical hospital environment. We are really proud of this project. It will be a place of joy and laughter inside a place that is not always nice.”

The Särkänniemi expansion is back on!

Construction on the park’s expansion will begin after the upcoming summer season. The first component to come to fruition, in 2023, will be the new harbourside entrance and adjoining retail/entertainment boulevard. This will be followed by Xplore Park. Each of these, and Media World, represent a €10 million investment.

Särkänniemi in Finland

The hotel and waterpark will cost €70 million. The park has not yet chosen a designer or supplier for the latter. But it will be themed, possibly based on a legend or myth surrounding Lake Näsijärvi.

One way or another, it seems water will play an even greater role in Särkänniemi’s future.

“Our location, attached to the city centre but with the beautiful lake surrounding us, is quite unique,” says Seppälä. “It is our vision is to be both a city park and a resort. A place for Tampere inhabitants to come for a quick visit or enjoy an evening out in the new restaurant street, as well as a multi-day destination for tourists.”

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Owen Ralph

Owen Ralph

As a Lead Features Writer for blooloop, Owen brings with him two decades of experience covering the amusement and attractions industry for trade publications, including World’s Fair, Coinslot International, Kirmes & Park Revue and Park World, where he spent 15 years as Editor. He is currently a member of the IAAPA EMEA Education Subcommittee.

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