Geauga Lake attendance down, underestimated animal attractions

Posted | Contributed by RollerCoasterGod

A year after Cedar Fair LP purchased Geauga Lake and invested millions in a promising new water park there, the property still isn't living up to expectations. CEO Dick Kinzel said he underestimated the attraction of the animals that Six Flags and Sea World had. The park's July attendance was, however, up 7% over last year.

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Jeff's avatar
I think Kinzel is selling himself a bit short there. They lacked the water park last year and didn't price it right. They're doing both of those things right now and the water park will be even bigger next year. I think those July numbers say a lot about where they're headed. The challenge is getting butts in the park in the spring prior to the water park opening.
True. He has been noticeably unhappy each time he talks about GL. The earnings press release must have mentioned "disappointing" results specifically there at least twice.

But, 7% over last year's truly dismal attendance might still be well short of the projections that justified the purchase.

Jeff's avatar
They're behind I'm sure. I seem to recall that they expected to recover the cost of the purchase in seven years. All things considered though, I still think that they got a deal on the property. $145 million... between the new rides and the cost of Sea World, Six Flags got really screwed in that deal.

Word is getting out around here about the water park too. I think they have nowhere to go but up.

It's up 7% over the month of July. YTD it's down 5% from 2004....
Anyone wonder how a park like this would do in the Southern US, seeing as how the Northeast is so saturated with "super-parks"
Geauga Lake will prevail over time, but its a shame that it has taken all this time to realize the value of an Anheuser Busch Property in your backyard.
I visited GL for the first time this year on Wednesday. I never even rode a coaster. It was Wild Water Kingdom that we spent the whole day in (specifically the lazy river). I think once the second phase is completed that it will be a major drawl for families. They have the start of a really and truly great water park.
I too think Geauga Lake will be ok. The times I've been there the place looks noticeably more busy.

Although attendance and financials are the bottom line. I'm sure exit surveys would show people seem to like the place a lot better and are more likely to return and tell others about the changes - which will go a long way towards helping them meet their goals.

Brian, when DOES Bill Spehn look happy? ;)

Ray P. (who is glad there is a guy like Mr. Spehn in charge at GL... he gets things done!)

I said from day one, it's going to take five years to turn this park around, and when it does, it's going to be another Dorney (this is not a bad thing, by the way).

Dorney's big draw is their water park, with rides being a secondary thing for the general public (my brother lives 45 minutes away, and I get weekly reports on what the crowds have been like), and I foresee the same for Geauga Lake.

I've REALLY been enjoying the park quite a bit this year. Put in a hyper coaster, and I may never again drive the extra hour to Cedar Point.

When Sea World existed, the area was a 2 day desitnation. Sea World was the unique feature over other Ohio Parks and had a high family, non-rider appeal.

With the combined parks, one could still spend 2 days, but the quality of the wildlife side was jeopardized.

Now its an amusement park with a water park. Nothing unique if you are in the Cleveland or Columbus market over nearby cedar point except price. Nothing unique over Kings Island worth making the longer trip if you are in the Cinti market.*** This post was edited by super7* 8/5/2005 4:03:53 PM ***

I agree that this was a deal for CF in terms of price paid! I also agree that they will turn things around with the waterpark model/emphasis long term. Honestly, can you go anywhere but up after Six Flags runs things into the ground?

BUT...A lot of people liked the animals. They now have no appealing draw beyond regional location. This park had a unique situation in which it could differentiate itself if done correctly. They chose to go the route that every other regional park has done before. It better be one heck of a waterpark to get people to travel...

I realize that animlas are not CF's business and can appreciate that they do not want to do what they are not good at. I just think that the animal/waterpark/amusement park combination COULD have been a huge success if done correctly!

At the very least, CF has stepped in and taken away (blocked) the threat of competition. Even if GL never reaches projections, it might still be better off in CF's hands than with another operator who was willing, and had the means to facilitate the animal park/waterpark/amusement park combination! Six Flags was never a threat to CF. The "unknown" could have been...?

How long did you guys stand in line for the Koolaid ? I know that everybody wants to think that their Park or Chain is great, but lets have a little balance!

1. "Six Flags ran the park into the ground"- Well SF did have a higher attendance figure and until CF surpasses that I do not think that idea is valid.

2. " CF stole SFWOA (GL)" Really, I believe that if you could walk down the halls in OK City you might find more than one Exec who is glad they are out of that market. The Ohio market is way oversold. If GL had not been a bargain to start with I do not think that SF would have bought it. Even Busch (who run very nice Parks) got out of that Market. What does that tell you ?

3. " SFWOA was never a threat to CP". Why did CF buy this Park then ? According to some on this sight it was only a small matter of time until Six Flags ran this Park into the ground and out of business. So why would CF buy this Park for even 145 mil ?

4. Since you guys are local can you tell me, How long will it take for GL to win back the business and trust of the Unions they upset? Will it take awhile or will it cool off pretty quick?

Do not get me wrong I have a huge list of things about SF I do not like and CF has great Parks. But they are not perfect and saying that means that you will try to do better. JMHO

What are you getting at, Agent Johnson?
Lord Gonchar's avatar
Re: Parkman

I don't know nearly as much about CF or the area as some of these guys, but here's my take:

1. That just works under the assumption that SFWOA's numbers would have stayed flat. I see it the other way, SFWOA would have had the same low attendance numbers if the park remained with SF for another season or two (which is exactly why the park was sold) - CF now has the task of stopping the runaway bus and then pushing it back uphill. They're just now starting to slow it. On a side note, even if they numbers are lower as long as the park turns a profit, then CF is better off with than without the park.

2. Stole it in the sense of even if they shut the gate the day they bought it, spread the rides to the rest of the parks in the chain, then sold the land to housing developers, they would have come out WAY ahead of the $145m they paid. That land and the rides on it along were worth much more than the selling price. That's a steal.

3. Number two explains it very well. They bought the land and rides at bargain basement prices. On top of that business isn't just about being the last man standing, it's about incresing your own numbers. CF is in a much better position as a company with after acquiring those assets as such a low price than if they just sat by and watched SF close the door.

4. I'm not local, I have no idea what the deal with that is and frankly don't care. As to avoid an offtopic, heated discussion, I'll spare my opinion on unions, union labor and such. :)

MY logic dictates that SF did 4 years worth of damage to the park and it's reputation, I'd give CF at least 4 years to get back to square one. (and I'm one who thought SF made all the right moves in terms of what they did with the property, if only the operations side of things would have held up their end then the Ohio market would be vastly different today)

eightdotthree's avatar
GL did their fair share of damage after the purchase as well with all the PR nightmares they created for themselves by not honoring kids passes and the deal with the unions. I think they will win everyone back though.
Jeff's avatar

its a shame that it has taken all this time to realize the value of an Anheuser Busch Property in your backyard.
If that made it valuable, why did Busch sell it? There's very little left on that property from that era other than general infrastructure.

BUT...A lot of people liked the animals. They now have no appealing draw beyond regional location. This park had a unique situation in which it could differentiate itself if done correctly.
No and no. They don't want to be more than a regional destination, they've said that over and over. The company has one of those with hundreds of hotel rooms 90 minutes away. Differentiation in the region didn't work for Busch in the long run, it didn't work for Six Flags, what makes you think it would've worked for anyone given the market?

Why did CF buy this Park then ?
Ummm... because the price was right and investors like it when you grow your business?

The union thing isn't as relevant as you think. That's a done deal. The public in general already is coming back, and the word is spreading quickly. A 7% boost in July is nothing to sneeze at for opening a half-finished water park.

If I was a betting man, I'd say it's a three-year turn around, not counting last year. The price is right, the marketing message is right and the product is right. Another Dorney is exactly what they'll be.

Sea World was the market draw for Western Pa. Once Sea World was gone, most passed up exit 13 and headed only to Sandusky.
Anheuser Busch (for the record) sold Sea World of Ohio, because of the shorter opperating season and the the push from shareholders to pump money into the more growing markets for example orlando (and discovery cove).

On the subject of geauga lake, C. F. has clearly stated Geauga Lake is not a destination park but a family park, hoping to draw in local crowds and have season pass holders. It is meant to be a compliment to Cedar point as an allternative for the north eastern ohio area. The water park is meant to be a family draw.

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