It gives me no pleasure to write a piece about this, but I think it IS important to see what happens when societal paranoia meets the reality of our society.
On Saturday night, reports began to circulate online of a group of disruptive teenagers inside California’s Great America. As part of a strong-arm robbery attempt inside the park, someone began shouting “SHOOTER,” inciting mass panic among the attendees.
Guests began running for any exit they could find, including making their own by scaling large, barbed wire fences in backstage areas.
Police scanner traffic reported a few some minor to moderate injures, consistent with trampling crowds, but that no shooting had occurred. There was no word if the group responsible for the false shooting reports were taken into custody.
The park put out a statement about 30 minutes after police arrived, saying:
They concluded with, “The safety of our guests and associates is our highest priority.”
Now, growing up at this park, it is beyond heartbreaking to watch a place I had so much fun in, turn into a place of pure, unadulterated terror. In an era where we drill our students about mass shooters in school, is it much of a stretch to see theme / amusement parks as a soft target? Sadly, no.
That being said, the security to get into theme / amusement parks like Great America is very good. I’ve never felt unsafe at a park event, except for what no security checkpoint can detect: bad actors. A person or group of people who are determined to hurt others in order to make themselves feel better.
The physical damage to the park is repairable. However, the reputation damage to the park and mental damage to those who were in attendance (both guests and employees) is not as easily repaired.
Are there are lessons to be learned here? Absolutely. I imagine parks across the country will be taking a look at their emergency and crisis plans to ensure this never happens at their parks.
But truth be told, we (as a nation) cannot allow ourselves to be so paranoid – and yet, here we are. That being said, after seeing all of these videos over and over, if I were placed in their shoes, I ask myself, “What would I do?”
I finish this op / ed with a question for all of us: Is this the type of country we want to live in? A country in which one bad actor can incite a mass panic, over the generally unfounded fear of someone gunning us down?
Because as much as we want this to be an isolated incident – barring radical change in our society – I’m fearful that this sort of occurrence is only the tip of the iceberg.
It seemed like virtual reality (VR) on roller coasters was about to be the “next big thing” in the amusement industry. Many parks / chains figured they could breathe new life into older attractions with a VR update. So why are we seeing less and less of them all of a sudden?
Slow Operations / Long Lines
The first thing folks noticed about VR coasters was their wait times – and it wasn’t because they had become instantly more popular. Ride dispatches, even on small trains could average up to 10 minutes+ making ride capacities plummet and wait times soar.
Plus, in many cases, there wasn’t a separate line for non-VR seats. Guests would have to wait the exact same amount of time to NOT experience VR as they did if they wanted to.
The Experience Wasn’t Seamless
During my many experiences with VR coasters, the ride didn’t sync properly with the timing of the train or shut off completely, which led to queasy guests. Other times, the VR required people to do an action, like shoot space aliens – leaving their hands unable to brace themselves into corners and brakes.
Did it make the ride better?
But for me, the biggest downfall of virtual reality coasters is that they don’t make the coaster they go on any better. In fact, in the case of Ninja at Six Flags St. Louis, it made the ride WORSE. I couldn’t brace for the “transitions” and the ride ended up being very painful.
There’s Promise on the Horizon…
Where VR coasters appear to have failed, there seems increasing promise in VR drop towers. Parks with multiple towers or vehicles seem like they could benefit the most.
To me, these experiences are a vastly superior VR experience: smoother, one plane of travel and decreased forces, coupled with not slowing down the other towers or vehicles.
So, to sum up, the VR experience is a novel concept but it’s not quite ready for prime time, at least with it’s current implementation here in the United States. If parks can ultimately work out the capacity and reliability issues with the headsets, it might be a novel way to breathe new life into older rides.
Otherwise, virtual reality coasters should be relegated to an up-charge attraction that only runs certain times of the year or specific hours of the operating day.
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What do you think? Do you enjoy VR on roller coasters, drop rides, or neither? Let me know in the comments below – and be sure to check us out on social media!
It’s that time of year again – time for park fans to begin serious speculation about what may (or may not) be coming to their favorite parks in 2020.
There seems to be two trains of thought on how to best make these announcements: by individual park or as a complete chain.
At Cedar Fair it appears the chain spreads out their announcements, usually over a two week period, so that each park receives their “day in the sun” with media coverage in their local markets.
Meanwhile at Six Flags, the chain has made it a tradition to announce every park’s newest addition in a single video, with each park sending out a release to their local media. The idea is that the single announcement carries more weight on a national level, which should translate into more traction with the national media.
But this “one day fits all” strategy does have a potential flaw: what if a park hasn’t opened their new ride from 2019? Wouldn’t that potentially kill the buzz for both?
Sadly, for the good folks at Six Flags Magic Mountain, they don’t have to imagine this scenario – they’re living it.
Since their “new for 2019” attraction, West Coast Racers, isn’t even finished being built, it’s highly likely the park will be forced to announce another new ride, without even finishing the last one they announced.
Personally, I’m a fan of the spread out approach. The collective anticipation continues to build throughout the week or two you keep dropping announcements. Plus, there’s a smaller probability that your least-visited parks or smaller investments won’t be lost in the giant, one day announcement.
And if a situation like Magic Mountain’s sets up, there’s flexibility built into it to delay an announcement.
No matter the way you announce it, 2020 is setting up to be a record year for new capital investment. Let the speculation and intrigue begin!
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What do you think? Are you a fan of a “one day” or “spread out” announcement style for new rides and attractions? Let me know in the comment section below – and be sure to check us out on social media as well!
Looking through some theme park fan message boards around September, you get a common theme: people ask about / want to go to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) expo in Orlando, mostly because, “it looks like fun.”
Still others post that, “It looks like Disney’s D23, only for the whole industry,” while others say, “…the website is written in business-speak…”
Let me clear up a few things for you all. First, IAAPA isn’t held for park fans. Don’t be confused by some of the coverage you see on some of those other park blogs, IAAPA is about just three things: buying goods, selling goods and networking for jobs.
Millions upon millions of dollars are transferred in the four days this show is held. There’s a literal ton of business being done on the floor – so – if you do decide to attend this expo as a park fan, you have to know “the code.”
Attending as a park or ride fan and just barreling up to the B&M or RMC booth to swoon over Walter, Fred or Alan – especially while they’re trying to talk to potential buyers – is a massive faux paux. In some cases, a company’s livelihood can depend on the meetings they have at this expo.
Also, snapping photos or video without permission is a HUGE no-no. ALWAYS ask booth vendors if it’s okay to take a photo or record part of their booth the booth for a video.
If you’ve got actual business to discuss (such as inquiring about a job or internship) then feel free to speak to them…when they’re free. If you’re a fan and just taking in the convention for fun, it’s best to just grab some literature and move on. Speaking of discussing business…
The amusement industry – despite being worldwide – is a very tight knit group of individuals. Everyone knows everyone and word gets around…fast. That’s why IAAPA is the perfect event to go to if you’re looking to get a job in the industry. This expo gives you the rare opportunity to meet and network with prospective employers face to face, as well as the opportunity to give them a copy of your resume and cover letter.
Take it from me – I’ve been hired because of connections I made at this expo in the past, as have several of my friends!
Now, despite what you might think from some of the other bloggers out there – the way you dress says a LOT about your purpose. Shorts and a t-shirt emblazoned with your blog’s logo are not commonplace nor looked upon well by vendors. If you want to make a good impression, stand out from the other “schlubs” and come in a suit and tie.
If your registration permits it, one of the least talked about (but best parts) of the expo are the educational seminars they hold. From learning about the business from Disney legends, to how to properly curate social media for your brand, to symposiums on laser tag – these “edu-sessions” give attendees tons of insight, but tend to not get the fanfare that the show floor does.
Speaking of the show floor – yes, it’s true – there ARE a few rides and attractions you can go on at the show. It’s just like purchasing a new car. Just remember that those vendors are there to sell that ride – not entertain you with a day-long ERT session.
If you truly love this industry and want to make it part of your career, I would make it a point to someday visit the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando. However, if you’re looking for a place to nerd out with other theme park fans, save your money and stick with D23. You’ll end up having more fun there, anyway.
Traditionally, the final day of operations at California’s Great America occurs in the last weekend of October (or on rare occasions, the first day of November). But this year will be different – markedly different. Details are now being released on the park’s first-annual “WinterFest” – only the second time in it’s history the park will remain open past the first weekend in November. And if there was any doubt as to whether or not the park would go “all-in” the first year of the event – those questions have been quickly answered. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
This is shaping up to be the “signature” attraction of the event – and for good reason. The reflection pond in front of Carousel Columbia will be frozen over (real ice from what our park contacts say, not plastic faux-ice) to create arguably the Bay Area’s most beautiful skating rink. No word if S.J. Sharkie or Santa Clara native, (and Olympian) Polina Edmunds will make an appearance, but I’m sure as heck sharpening my skates for this.
As part of the entertainment, there will be an Snoopy-themed Ice show, several holiday themed shows, a min-trolley filled with carolers and a nightly tree lighting ceremony behind Carousel Columbia. Aren’t you glad you upgraded to a Gold or Platinum Pass so you can take it all in over a few weekends?
After a test-run with the “Taste of Orleans” food festival earlier this summer, the “lighting competition” that will be staged inside Orleans Place should blow away park-goers. I’m thinking that it’ll rival Gilroy Gardens’ spectacular nighttime event, “Lumination.”
In Hometown Square, you’ll be able to see it snow – meet real reindeer and even browse the famous Christmas tree lot to find your own fern that “just needs a little love.” It also appears many of the food locations will be re-tolled and re-themed to reflect the holidays.
I’m also very happy to see the park create and use it’s OWN photos for the promotion of the event. By that, I mean most collateral in park chains is re-used (I.E. even though it’s Great America’s TV commercial – you’re looking at a ride from Knott’s). That is not the case with WinterFest – because that’s most certainly Maggie Brown’s behind the trolley. And who else is excited that the trolley is (sort of) coming back?!?
It should be noted that the entire park will not be open as part of WinterFest. Everything from just about Planet Snoopy over to Hometown Square will be – but don’t expect to challenge the Demon, Drop Zone, Psycho Mouse or the rest of County Fair this winter. Also, some of these activities will require an additional fee to participate (mostly out of capacity concerns, I imagine).
There are two major challenges the park faces in order to make this event an annual tradition: the weather and 39 years of learned, guest behavior. First, let’s talk about rain. It’s always a threat here in Northern California (except the past 5 years thanks to drought) so hold off your rain dances on the weekend – otherwise the event could be a complete wash.
Coasters generally do not run as well in the cold, at least B&M’s tend to be like this. If temps are around 45 or so, I’d expect to see fairly short lines for most of the park’s bigger attractions.
The other big challenge the park must overcome is the public itself. Not since opening season in 1976 have guests been able to enjoy the park after October (and even then it was rained out most of the time and never re-attempted). In addition, the nearly four week closure (needed to move things around and set them up) between Haunt closing and WinterFest starting up will be crucial to keeping the park “front of mind” with guests. Remember, most people throw away their old passes after the last day – and many might still think that’s October 30th.
Also, the Bay Area is also a very crowded market when it comes to holiday events, with several very established events in the South Bay. The park will have to do a masterful job of building the awareness that they’re still open and ready for fun nearly all the way to the New Year. (Both the Boardwalk and Six Flags have already established
So, who’s ready for a little winter cheer in Santa Clara next month? Let me know what you think in the comments section below:
Hidden in plain sight above Bourbon Street in Orleans Place, lies a little bit of Disney magic inside the confines California’s Great America:
Known as “The Consulate” – it’s primary function is a meeting room, where some of the biggest decisions about the park have gone down.
But that wasn’t always the intended purpose. In fact, it was originally built with the idea that the Marriott’s would use the space to stay during trips, a la the apartment above the firehouse at Disneyland. That is, until the Marriott’s realized they had nice hotels already near their properties with concierge service and a lack of crowds.
So while the Consulate is still used today for business – what if it’s wrought iron gates were opened to a select few park-goers as a VIP lounge? And what if you could upgrade your Platinum Pass to a “Consulate Pass?”
The idea isn’t that far fetched – several parks have hosted hospitality centers for bloggers and other influencers, where they could store items and get free refills and snacks, all away from the crowds. Why not give guests the opportunity to pay for that same, sweet access?
Plus, the pass could add a few other perks, maybe higher discounts for food and merchandise – or even a single fast lane per visit. It’s a Platinum, Platinum Pass.
Since upgrading to a Platinum Pass isn’t worth the cost for most Bay Area folks, with the exception of those who want to go to Knott’s (and I’ve covered that in a previous article) and considering an upgrade from a Gold Pass to a Platinum Pass doesn’t add any more value to a visit at CGA, maybe this benefit might be the incentive people need to pony up those extra bucks. And since we’re here in Silicon Valley, receiving that “premium” experience is not a hard sell.
Should it be by invite only? Probably to start. Parks tend to (or should) know their heaviest users and could easily identify probable candidates from common knowledge – or just looking at pass usage data.
What do you think? Would you pay up to get access to the Consulate? How much would you be willing to shell out to step up to the second floor? Let me know in the comments below.
Again, special thanks to Kurt (The Coaster Guy) for permission to use his photos of the Consulate during ACE’s Coaster Con XXXVII!
It seems like every week this summer, the news has stories of horrific injuries or deaths at an amusement park. With that, comes the predictable “I knew that ride wasn’t safe. They should have never opened it,” chatter online.
But, as hard to believe as it is: Amusement parks are not trying to hurt or kill you.
Around the turn of the century, things were different. Rides were a new concept and safety systems were, well – non-existent. In fact, a ride with a “killer” reputation was actually MORE popular, as people were willing to test their mettle against the machine.
But as the industry matured, so also did it’s guests – and the demand went from a killer coaster to a safer one. Manufacturers responded with the lap bar, seat belt and over the shoulder restraint.
It’s no longer in the best interest of a park to have a ride that’s not safe – and that’s been the case since the 1920’s. Coasters and flat rides can be millions of dollars of investment – and one accident could turn that investment into a fancy lawn ornament.
Yeah, there’s always the exceptions to the rule, but thankfully in this industry – they tend to be easy to spot. If a ride doesn’t “look” right – it probably isn’t. And if you don’t like the way it looks, you don’t have to ride.
So, with this rash of incidents across the country – could better oversight lead to safer rides? I’m not sure. Currently, the states regulate amusement rides, to varying degrees depending on location. Could a uniform standard be better? Maybe. But uniform rules have their drawbacks, too.
It’s hard to create a “one size fits all” methodology for the entire United States. If we can’t agree on anything in Washington, it would be tough to push through legislation that would work fairly for everyone.
I repeat this stat often, because it’s worth repeating: You have better odds of being injured driving to an amusement park than you do while inside. You may hear about a deadly crash on the freeway, only mentioned as a “Sig Alert” in a traffic update. A death on a coaster, however will cause the news choppers to be summoned to the scene.
So go to your local amusement or theme park with confidence – just follow the safety rules. A park doesn’t want to hurt or kill you, despite what the internet says. Because if they did – you wouldn’t be able to go back and spend more money there…
Never has a wooden roller coaster closure announcement been more gleefully celebrated by the ride enthusiast community…
On Monday, Cedar Point announced that they would be “giving the axe” to their once record-breaking wooden roller coaster, Mean Streak. There was no blowback; no online petitions; no hashtag activists. Quite simply, people were ready to let Mean Streak go. But why? Aren’t we supposed to celebrate and try to preserve the wooden coaster in America? After all, we invented them back in 1884 at Coney Island.
Mean Streak was part of a trio of massive wooden roller coasters built in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s. They were designed and built by Charles Dinn of Ohio and each (Hercules at Dorney Park, The Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and Mean Streak at Cedar Point) were record breakers.
They were also neck breakers. While the rides were massively popular their first year, the parks they sat in simply could not allocate enough man-hours or maintenance time to keep them running as smooth as when they opened. They quickly fell out of favor with not only ride enthusiasts, but also the general public due to their rough rides.
Of the 11 wooden coasters that Dinn designed and built – four have been demolished, one has been renovated into a steel coaster and now we await the eventual fate of Mean Streak.
The other massive woodies of the era (not built by Dinn) did not fare well, either. The Rattler at Fiesta Texas was renovated into a steel coaster in 2013 while Son of Beast at Kings Island was eventually torn down.
The closure of Mean Streak is a bookend to a unique era in the amusement industry, where we discovered there is an upper limit to what wooden coasters can do, bigger was not always better and sacrificing ride quality for records does not make for a good, long-term investment. Let us hope that we never see an era like it again.
Over the past several years, many parks around the world have decided to remove their flume rides.
But I’m here today to come to the defense of the lowly log flume, even though they rarely defend me from their chlorinated waters.
Much like the roller coaster, the log flume has become an integral part of any amusement or theme park. Invented by Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan of Arrow Development in the 1963, the flume came about after hearing of stories of loggers riding trunks as they traversed the narrow, fast troughs of water.
But with the rise of water parks, many companies are making the choice to eliminate the flume – because of on-going maintenance and operating costs.
Here’s why they should reconsider:
- Flumes are multi-purpose:
Any good amusement park should have three different types of water rides: A spillwater, white water rapid and a flume. Two of the three are just about guaranteed to get you soaked.
But a flume is different.
Don’t want to be soaked but want to cool down? Then you go on the flume.
It’s also a great ride EVERYONE can enjoy in the family. From the kids to grandma and grandpa, you can share the experience of a log ride. You can’t do that with a water park.
- Flumes aren’t water parks:
Unlike a water park, you don’t need to change clothes to go to and from a log flume. There’s no need for a locker and they have wonderful capacity compared to a waterslide.
Guests get more bang for their buck, too – as flumes tend to be one of the longest length attractions in most parks.
- Flumes are heritage:
They were invented here, in America. In fact, they were invented less than 10 miles from where I currently type. The first one was so popular at Six Flags Over Texas, they built a second one to handle the crowds.
They suck in tons of people on hot days and provide some of the best photo opportunities for any park photographer.
Most importantly, they are part of the fabric that keeps parks together. Removing a flume is like removing a coaster these day – and every one that has been removed has been sorely missed.
Simply put, the flume deserves to be preserved – and revered.
What do you think – are the days of the log flume numbered? Tell me in the comments section or on my social media links!
How long have we heard that California’s Great America doesn’t have anywhere to expand? “The park is landlocked – there’s nowhere for them to go.” And what about, “Cedar Fair doesn’t care about this park – they want to sell it.”
Well, this aught to shut up the naysayers…
In an unprecedented announcement on Wednesday, the park announced that it has applied for a rezoning from the City of Santa Clara, which will allow it to add significantly more attractions with less red tape, intends on purchasing the land on which the park sits on and will build a massive retail and entertainment complex near the front gate of the park.
CGA fans, get ready to drool:
To think this was a park that looked like it was about to close just a few years ago – now look at all the new stuff that’s planned and proposed…
There’s a lot of verbiage to get through, but here’s the most important part (in my opinion). Long time fans of this park may recall the proposed “Front Gate” project during the Paramount era, before the land was converted into two office towers. Well, long time fans, your patience has finally paid off:
This gives the park a major, strategic advantage over it’s competitors – no other park in Northern California offers this sort of experience. If it reminds you of Knott’s Marketplace, Universal CityWalk or Downtown Disney – that’s no mistake.
And for fans of the park itself, they didn’t forget about you, either. The rezoning will allow the park far more flexibility in building new attractions – and it’s all spelled out, here:
Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet also told those in attendance that any change in the use of land would have to first be approved by the City of Santa Clara AND Cedar Fair – which all but ensures the park will be around through 2074.
So, CGA fans – who’s ready to watch their park transform into an entertainment destination? Tell us in the comments section below or on our social media links!
So China just opened a theme park, dedicated to the ruling, Communist Party.
Yep. Sounds terrifying.
Is the overall theme of the place, “no dissenters allowed.” Or maybe, “Internet only we want you to see.” Is there a “Tienanmen Square” tank-themed ride? I’m going to guess not…
It’s difficult to see and understand the layout of the park – as there are no photos of any rides or real attractions, outside of posing with statues and other fun sculptures.
I wonder how line jumping is handled here…check it out for yourself:
There are several names synonymous in the roller coaster and theme park community: Karl Bacon, Ed & Dana Morgan, Anton Schwarzkopf, Walter Bolliger & Claude Mabillard and Walt Disney, among many others.
But one in particular seems to have fallen by the wayside – Eric Laithwaite. And yet every enthusiast who’s ever enjoyed a modern, launched roller coaster owes those very thrills to him, because he is “the father of linear induction.”
Laithwaite’s most famous work centered around using magnetism to provide frictionless travel, on maglev trains. He had figured out that if you uncoiled a standard, electrical motor, an object could simply glide over it on an electromagnetic wave – and it would stay on course with the attraction and resistance already natural to those magnets.
Perhaps his most famous work of the time was the magnetic river from “The Spy Who Loved Me”
But for parks, chain lifts were just fine modes of gaining potential energy – and the technology wasn’t seen for amusement purposes until 1975, with the debut of Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland Transit Authority. While it kept a consistent pace to the ride – it’s hardly a thrill ride, too.
People at the time did not see the true potential of the futuristic, potential acceleration system. Computer control systems were still rudimentary by today’s standards – plus the weight drop and flywheel launches of Schwarzkopf and Arrow were doing the job just fine.
It would take over two decades before amusement ride manufacturers would take the technology to it’s full potential, with the debut of Premier Rides’ “Flight of Fear” indoor coasters at (then) Paramount’s Kings Island and Kings Dominion in 1996.
And, after a year of technical issues, the technology would reach it’s top speed, with the debut of Intamin’s spectacular Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It still holds the record for fastest linear launched coaster on Earth at 100 mph (on a good day).
With the explosion in launched coasters over the past two decades, just remember to add the name Eric Laithwaite to your coaster lexicon. Because without him – you would literally be going nowhere, fast.
Today, California’s Great America announced “Winterfest” a spectacular larger than life holiday event. The event will be in direct competition with Six Flags’ “Holiday in the Park” which has been running for several years now up in Vallejo. “Winterfest” will be free to attend for anyone with a Gold of Platinum season pass.
Included in the winter wonderland will be a skating rink in front of Carousel Columbia, light displays, holiday shows, limited ride operation and holiday themed food options.
It will be capped off with one of the Bay Area’s tallest Christmas trees and even giant toy soldiers greeting guests.
Not too bad.
The five-week WinterFest celebration begins November 25 for weekend operation. Daily operations run December 19th through 23rd and 26th through 30th.
Suddenly, buying a season pass to the park this year got a whole lot more enticing. Certainly the addition of “Mass Effect” wasn’t enough to bring me back for another year – but this might do the trick.
Now, the park HAS tried something similar in the past – in the first season, back in 1976. Those small rings near Carousel Columbia’s top were to help mount Christmas lights. Unfortunately, it didn’t do so well, mostly due to poor weather. However, with the success of Six Flags’ “Holiday in the Park” in nearby Vallejo – it seems like a no-brainer to capitalize on the demand.
The other major issue is ride rehabilitation schedules. Staying open longer means some rides won’t be ready in late March, when the park opens for its 2017 season. Disneyland has perfected this art with a complete schedule of when rides will be down.
However, no other park has been able to duplicate this, usually resorting to single train operation for a majority of the early-season. We shall see how this park is able to handle the lack of time for annual rehabs.
Talk about an awkward ride…
A Houston man and a New York woman are now facing felony charges after they were recorded having sex during a 30-minute ride about the High Roller observation wheel in Las Vegas.
Phillip Frank Panzica III and Chloe Scordianos were arrested back on February 5th, after security caught them “in the act” aboard one of the capsules, 550 feet above the Las Vegas Strip.
Surveillance cameras captured everything – and passengers in other cabins recorded all the action via their cell phones. Security requested multiple times to stop “enjoying their ride” but it was all for naught. They were arrested when then cabin returned to the ground.
According to the Associated Press, Scordianos’ lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, says his client believed the couple had an expectation of privacy.
You rode a glass capsule (one of 28 on the wheel) that’s suspended 550 feet above Las Vegas Strip and you expected privacy? Y’all couldn’t wait thirty minutes and get a hotel room – oh I don’t know – ANYWHERE ELSE in Las Vegas?
Now, it’s not like this sort of hanky panky is unheard of – heck, there’s even a blog that gives you TIPS on how to best pull these sorts of shenanigans on the High Roller. My advice: keep personal “thrill rides” to yourself – oh, and bring some Purell on your next ride aboard the High Roller, too.
California’s Great America has been a fixture of the City of Santa Clara and for that matter the entirety of Northern California since late 1975. But a recent story by SanJoseInside.com pointed to several sources inside Santa Clara City Hall, that said they don’t expect the park to be around for much longer.
Now, I know something about “Lost Parks” and this story doesn’t feel like the pattern that those parks have followed.
Specifically, the story claims that Mayor Jamie Matthews, along with Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor oversaw a presentation by the Irvine Company (who have ties to the 49ers) that showed the Great America site replaced by an office complex and high density housing (condos).
I reached out to Mayor Matthews, who told me he, “…did not recall any such presentation,” and added that his preference, “…would be to see the park stay. I was there opening day.”
Repeated calls to Councilwoman Gillmor were not returned.
So why are we even entertaining this idea that the park land is being sold off?
Well, when the City of Santa Clara bought the park and land from Marriott’s back in the 1980’s, it was to stop the hotel chain from building – you guessed it – an office park. Santa Clara purchased the park via it’s redevelopment agency and wrote into the city’s master plan that the land was to be used for an amusement park/ The park would be owned by the city but assets (I.E. rides and improvements) would be owned and operated by an established amusement park operator.
Fast forward to the 2000’s, and California’s legislature effectively raids redevelopment agencies coffers to pay down the defect – and eventually disbands them, forcing them to sell off all their assets. The land under Great America, along with the golf course and convention center in Santa Clara are part of the redevelopment agencies’ assets.
Indeed, the park does sit in the middle of a real estate buying boom (where the average household rent is in excess of $2300 for a one bedroom apartment). Commercial real estate is just as in-demand.
However, several sources tell Great American Thrills an entirely different story. They say that Cedar Fair is indeed, committed to keeping Great America around for the long haul, citing the length of the current lease – which was recently extended to 2074 – a recent re-zoning application, which will allow for newer attractions and several clauses in the lease itself that give the park the upper hand.
Here’s the full statement from the corporate office in Sandusky, OH:
“We believe that Great America has compelling potential for future development as an amusement park and entertainment venue. Consistent with our long-term vision for Great America we have filed a rezoning application with the City of Santa Clara that would allow for the addition of new attractions, shows and events that will enhance the guest experience. In light of the fact that our ground lease runs through 2074 we have the necessary control of the property to pursue our long-term vision. In addition, we have also created enough financial flexibility to exercise our right of first refusal for the purchase of the property and that option will be considered as the land sale process moves forward.”
So what does this all mean? To me, it says the park isn’t going anywhere. Cedar Fair has already spent too much to NOT buy the park land for themselves – and breaking a lease with over half a century still left on it will be tied up in court for years.
This isn’t the Kinzel-era, anymore. His obsession with garbage cans is not the top priority anymore. It’s claimed that current CEO Matt Ouimet (who comes form Disney) said after touring Great America for the first time, that it was, “…a diamond in the rough,” and, “Why did we treat this park so badly?”
Yes, the park hasn’t received that monster attraction in recent years – but neither has several other parks in the Cedar Fair chain. The investments that have come in the past few years over the LONG TERM are going to keep the park in far healthier shape fiscally than any one coaster would. And the key words there are “long term.”
Now, if the park DOESN’T buy the land underneigh it – that’s something to watch for. There’s still the lease to break AND the master plan, which would need a vote by the residents of Santa Clara in order to change…
To sum it up: Don’t write off Great America just yet – keep enjoying it.