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Face to face: Matthew Priddy, Cumming Corp

by Fatima De La Cerna on Feb 17, 2018


Matthew priddy, cumming Corporation
Matthew priddy, cumming Corporation

Matthew Priddy is not a fan of the word “amusement”. He has nothing against the word itself, he says. He’s just not comfortable when people use it to refer to the themed entertainment sector or, more specifically, when they conflate amusement parks with theme parks.

Joking that he doesn’t want to come off as a “theme park snob”, the recently appointed vice president of themed entertainment project management at Cumming Corporation clarifies that while he believes amusement parks and theme parks are two different concepts, he doesn’t see one as necessarily being better than the other.

“A theme park is just that – it is supported by a theme that is [evident] in the architecture or the featured attractions,” he tells Construction Week. “Amusement parks, on the other hand, can be anything from county fairs to facilities with rides and games, which don’t offer the kind of immersive experience that a theme park does.

“To me, you go to an amusement park to have fun. And some of those parks are awesome, but they are not a place where you can suspend disbelief, which is what a theme park really needs to do.”

Rephrasing an oft-quoted line from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz to drive home his point, he continues: “When you walk through the front gate [of a theme park], you should [be transported] to a place that will make you think, ‘This isn’t Kansas anymore’.”

Most people would not readily recognise the difference between an amusement park and a theme park, says Priddy, suggesting that to truly understand what themed entertainment is about, one just needs to look into the history of Disneyland, and how Walt Disney succeeded in achieving his dream of developing a park that would not only appeal to the whole family but also give people access to the characters he had created.

The Disney reference comes as no surprise; after all, he spent 20 years with Walt Disney Imagineering, part of which as senior vice president of worldwide production. In his two-decade tenure with the company, Priddy was responsible for more than $4bn (AED14.7bn) in theme park, resort, and technical developments, including Tokyo Disneyland, Phase 1 and 2 of Disneyland Paris, and the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Epcot is particularly memorable for him, since it was the first project he worked on when he became an “imagineer”.

Priddy, who majored in theatre technology in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was introduced to the company by a college roommate, who went to work for WED Enterprises, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, after graduation.

The introduction, he recalls, led to Disney contacting him while he was a staff instructor at UCLA, asking him to develop theme park scenery for the Epcot project: “That’s how I started. I showed up, and we went out, leased a 200,000-square-foot (18,581m2) building, hired a bunch of guys, got a bunch of tools, and went for it.”

He and his team produced 278,709m2 of themed scenery in 18 months for Epcot, while also working on Tokyo Disneyland.

“We ended up sort of inventing how to build prefabricated theme park scenery,” he says, explaining that scenery work for Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland was completed in North Hollywood in California before being shipped off to Florida and Japan.

From building scenery, Priddy says that his scope of responsibility grew to eventually include controls, project management, and effects design, among others. He deadpans: “I kept expecting to get laid off, but I got promoted instead.”

Promotions notwithstanding, Priddy eventually left his imagineering days behind him and joined Hill International as vice president and project director before moving to DXB Entertainments as its chief technology officer.

In January this year, he accepted the vice president position at Cumming. “I’ve been in the business a long time, and I thought that it was time for me to put myself in a place that would give me the opportunity to take advantage of all that experience, and venture to where there’s room for growth and room to expand,” he says. “I believe Cumming is poised for that type of growth.”



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