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New operator approved for Old Tucson Studios

Pima County supervisors approved new operators for Old Tucson Studios. The new owner said it’s planning many events at the site, including the popular Halloween attraction “Night Fall.”

Old Tucson Studios is officially getting a new operator after the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a contract with American Heritage Railways to take over operations.

The company will operate Old Tucson under a subsidiary corporation, Old Tucson Entertainment LLC, that will operate the grounds as a “public Western Frontier-type recreational and entertainment venue,” according to the county.

American Heritage Railways calls itself a “heritage tourism company based on the preservation of railroad history.” The company has specialized in operating historic railroad equipment for more than 25 years and is a top-five licensor for live-themed events with Warner Bros and owns three tourist railroads, a scenic bus company and a historic frontier hotel.

“Our goal is to bring the historical presence of the property to a new environment, really create a sustainable environment for the property, for the community, and for the future of this location,” John Harper, chief operating officer of Old Tucson Entertainment, told the board Tuesday.

Harper said the company will hire staff locally and has plans for film productions, theatrical events and “mud runs.”

Plans are already in the works, he said, to bring back the property’s Halloween attraction “Night Fall” and a subsequent Christmas event.

“From the end of September until Jan. 1 of 2023, there’s going to be activity almost every day on property of some type,” Harper said.

The company will pay Pima County $60,000 annually to rent the property and 4% of its annual gross operating revenue. The county says those funds will go toward capital maintenance and expansion.

Old Tucson, the setting of more than 400 feature films and TV shows, closed in August 2020 after the pandemic halted the crowd-based events that drew visitors to the historic location.

The county took over control of the 180 acres of land leased to former operator Old Tucson Co. when it announced it would be terminating its 25-year lease due to financial troubles onset by the pandemic. The company had leased the property since 1973.

Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at nludden@tucson.com


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Nicole joined the Star in 2021. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at ASU’s Cronkite school in 2020 and has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, AC Press and Arizona Press Club.

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