Though the portal to Evermore has been open for a while now and guests have been welcomed throughout the month to experience the story and the magic, Saturday was a special day for the immersive reality theme park, marking the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting as well as a firm step toward future growth.
“It’s fun; it’s authentic,” said Rebecca Beach of The Beach House YouTube channel, who came to the grand opening with her husband, Michael, and brother Joseph Ryan Lee.
“It’s increasingly getting better,” Lee said of their journey through it so far. “What I’ve noticed about the whole park is there’s a feeling about it that’s different than any other park in the country.”
“We do a lot of prop building for videos that we post on YouTube,” Michael explained. “We build a lot of treasure hunts and real life adventures, so it’s fun to see the amount of effort and detail that went into this. We’re excited to come back and actually do some filming here for some of our skits on our YouTube channel.”
According to Lee, it’s the little things that have really created the magic of the experience at Evermore.
“I love the attention to detail,” he said. “I can see that it’s still in the works, it’s still coming to fruition especially in some of the parts, but the parts that are at a finished point – you can see the potential that this has, just like Disneyland when it started. This is like the start of something that’s going to be great.”
Ken Bretschneider, founder and CEO of Evermore, also pointed out during his opening comments at the ribbon cutting that Evermore really is still just beginning.
“Honestly, our park isn’t totally finished yet,” he said. “It is always going to be under construction because we’re always going to be creating new experiences here. And so we hope to show everybody an amazing show tonight – just a taste of what’s to come here. Our goal at Evermore is to literally redefine the concept of immersive entertainment and take it to a whole new level where people get to step into the story and enjoy an adventure.”
It’s a passion project for Bretschneider, and one he and his family have staked their future on.
“We put everything we had into this and we need it to be a success or we’re homeless, and that’s not a joke,” he said during the opening to a series of chuckles.
“I’m doing this for more than just money,” he continued. “We had money. We could have been drinking fruity drinks on a beach somewhere. But that isn’t life. Life is about experience, life is about having fun and having joy and being able to do great things and have great experiences with your friends and your family and that’s what we want to create here.”
Bretschneider is hands on about this world he’s creating, and it’s led to countless hours working with devoted teams and pacing the park itself as the first guests made their way through the stories and adventures.
“I’m excited but there’s a lot more I want to do,” he said of the opening so far. “We’ve been seeing great reactions all week with the soft opening. We opened up new areas in the park tonight (for the Grand Opening) and it’s just more of what we’ve been seeing; that is, people going on an adventure, being able to express their imaginations and having a bit of escapism for a night. I think that’s really important so that’s what we’re here to do.”
It’s something he said he couldn’t have accomplished without “the support of the community,” as well as the “extended community of geeks, which we all are, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of being a geek.”
It’s a sentiment oft-echoed by Dan Farr, the founder and creator of Utah’s other geek-centric event, FanX: Salt Lake Comic Convention, and is part of the reason the pair joined forces in a partnership, and launched the first opening of Evermore together as a wrap-up event for this year’s FanX.
“Dan is really an amazing person and he’s in it for the right reason, too” Bretschneider said. “We both have heart and, what we’re trying to create – we need to make money to be successful, but it’s not about making money it’s about making memories and experiences because that’s all life is. It really is.”
“Ken really is quite a visionary to pull something like this off, and the thing is he didn’t cut any corners in here,” said Farr, who was present for the opening. “I hope people can learn to really appreciate what’s here. You look at the doors that they brought over from Europe – they imported so much. I don’t know how many containers they brought over ... it was a big number. There was so much that went into it.”
Another interesting feature, according to Farr, is the history the imported items brought with them.
“I said, ‘So, you think anything’s haunted?’ They said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ They feel like some of the artifacts they’ve brought over have brought ghosts with them as well.”
“Our warehouse is completely haunted,” Bretschneider said of the sentiment. “Right now, some of the most amazing pieces of set design are in the tavern. I would say (the best) external pieces are up in the graveyard area. There are a lot of real pieces there that are gothic that we’re excited about. Some of those pieces came from private collections that literally were where they were until WWII and the buildings got bombed out. They got put into reclamation and storage areas then were put into private collections and then we bought them out of private collections and brought them here, so they really had an amazing journey to get here.”
The magic of the park isn’t just created by the imported historical items, though. Walking through the park, in many places it’s hard to discern what is actually old, and what’s just been incredibly designed. That’s the whole point, according to John Underwood, who served as general contractor for the whole of Evermore.
“We have such a great group of guys that work with us,” Underwood said. “It takes a minute, you know. You get them involved then it takes a minute to catch the vision and they get it and they’re like, ‘OK,’ and they start doing it the right way.”
Because his team is used to creating highly polished finished products, tackling the old and unique design of Evermore brought with it a challenge.
“Brick masons are guys that do finished work,” he said. “They want it to be just pristine, and they want it to be so straight and level and plumb, and you’re trying to tell them not to do it straight and level and plumb. You want it a little bit crooked and a little bit off so it takes a minute, but once they get it then it goes right.”
For Underwood, the best part has been seeing Bretschneider’s vision come to life.
“The most exciting part is trying to make Ken’s dreams become reality; trying to make his vision the way he wants it,” Underwood said. “I mean that’s exciting when he shows me a picture, it gives me a concept and we put it together and he comes back and he’s like, ‘That’s exactly right,’ or ‘That’s even better than I thought,’ that’s exciting; that’s amazing.”
Though the park has been open throughout the month, the enormity of the project is something Underwood said he’s still coming to terms with.
“I’m still waiting for it to hit me, I think only because you’re enthralled in everything – you’re still working, you’re still building. I’m excited and sometimes I can’t believe it. I mean, there’s moments where it hits me, where I stop and I’m like, ‘What am I doing? This is incredible! This is crazy.’ It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I feel so lucky and so blessed. I mean who gets to do this? That’s what I tell people. Who gets to build a theme park? How does this happen? So it’s amazing.”
As to his favorite part of construction so far, Underwood said it changes as each new project comes to fruition.
“The Burrows are amazing,” he said. “We just got them open today. All the woodwork … it’s insane. It is so over the top. All the finishes and all the detail are so cool. When you walk through it, just look at it; everything’s real. That’s what’s great. Everything’s totally real. The wood’s all real. It’s not foam detail or fake finishes.”
That devotion to detail is what lured Evermore Chief Creative Officer Josh Shipley away from a decades-old career at Disney to invest in the new project.
“I was with Disney for a couple of decades, and the excitement of what was being created here in this market is actually an infectious drug almost,” he said. “It’s happiness, it’s excitement, it’s the ability to create something that you can then give to other people. And those of you here tonight, we look forward to seeing how you’re enjoying this. It’s the reason why we’re here; it’s the reason why we’re doing this.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes also caught the fire of Evermore, and made an impressive appearance at the Grand Opening in costume as the Black Knight.
“I’ve bested your general, a worthy opponent, and imprisoned him in the State Capitol,” he said during the opening. “I am a Black Knight, the son of a Demigod, and they asked me, begged me really, to say a few words to you. Truly we need the money in your pockets to continue our evil designs here and we need your souls more importantly to quench my insatiable thirst.”
Reyes offered the first real taste of what would soon become an evening of magic and mischief for all those in attendance. With live bagpipes playing in the background, guests sharing witty banter with the giant Fae King, fire dancers gracing the stage and hundreds of explorers diving into a new realm and questing for answers amid dozens of elaborate characters, it was hard not to be swept up in the enthusiasm. And as the night wore on, and park-goers fraternized with goblins, spoke with vampires and searched for a cure for an unknown darkness, the array of cheers that went up during the fireworks display at dusk were a good indicator that Bretschneider’s dream was becoming an alluring reality for many in attendance.