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Colorado railroad operator poised to operate Old Tucson site

Old Tucson served as a film set for classic movies, television productions and commercials.
Credit: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

TUCSON, Ariz. — A company that operates historic railroads in Colorado and North Carolina is poised to take over operations of Old Tucson, a western-themed attraction that served as a film set for classic movies, television productions and commercials, officials said.

Pima County officials on Friday recommended that the county Board of Supervisors approve an agreement to have Durango, Colorado-based American Heritage Railways take control of the southern Arizona landmark, local media outlets reported.

Old Tucson's previous operator closed the attraction in 2020 due to financial fallout from the coronavirus. The lease for the 180-acre (73-hectare) site in the desert on Tucson's western outskirts reverted to Pima County, the property owner.

Built in 1939 as a replica of the 1860’s-era Tucson by Paramount Pictures for the movie “Arizona,” Old Tucson has served as the site for more than 400 films, television series, music videos and commercials.

Fire destroyed much of the attraction in 1995.

Credit: Arizona Daily Star via AP, File
The remains of Old Tucson Movie Studios after a fire engulfed much of the park a day before, in Tuscon, Ariz., April 25, 1995.

“We’re all so excited for this opportunity to be in Tucson, to work at Old Tucson, which is such an historic site, and to really bring what we do best — which is the entertainment, the preservation, and bringing this property back to life,” John Harper, American Heritage Railways’ manager, told KGUN-TV.

American Heritage Railways' properties include the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango and the Great Smokey Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, North Carolina.

The county board is expected to vote April 5 on an five-year operating agreement with possible extensions, the Arizona Daily Star and KOLD-TV reported.

The company would pay Pima County $60,000 annually to rent the property and 4% of its annual gross operating revenue, with the money going toward capital maintenance and expansion.

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