This is what Mansur Yavas, Ankara’s reformist mayor, inherited when he was elected to the vast metropolitan and rural area as the first member of the opposition in decades: a gigantic, fully built theme park billed as the largest in Europe. Wonderland Eurasia’s 17 rollercoasters are spread across 130 hectares, meant to draw tourists from across Europe and Asia and even beyond to Turkey’s capital with the allure of huge plaster dinosaurs, multiple food courts, souped-up carnival rides, and underpaid recent graduates dressed up as cartoon characters.
And it is all a disaster of unimaginable proportions, a monument to Turkey’s corruption and mismanagement. Built by the city’s flamboyant former mayor, İbrahim Melih Gokcek, it opened in March 2019 to much fanfare and was inaugurated by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But it was immediately beset by financial and infrastructure problems – including unsafe rides requiring millions of dollars in upgrades to bring them up to standard. Far fewer guests came to the theme park than were needed to make it sustainable. It failed to muster enough revenue even to pay its electricity bills. The park was leased to a private company in 2019, but that firm also went under, saddling the city with even more debt.
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