Together with venues like Old Town and Magical Midway, Central Florida’s two Fun Spot parks provide an affordable alternative to the big Orlando area theme parks. Owner and CEO John Arie Snr tells Park World about his big plans for Fun Spot America off Internatiomal Drive.
Located just a stone’s throw from the multi-million attendance Universal Orlando Resort, Fun Spot America entertains hundreds of thousands families each year. Now its owners are about to up the ante with a $20 million, 10-acre expansion which will triple the size of the five-acre park.
How did Fun Spot come to be?
I started at a local go-kart park back in high school. After college, I worked at a seasonal park in Maryland, before opening a lawn mower shop. I added a small go-kart track to the shop and it did well. International Drive in Orlando was just getting started; it was the mid ’70s. I borrowed money from family and friends and opened Fun ’n Wheels in 1978. I sold it 10 years later, after a couple of expansions. As there was a non- compete clause, I went off and opened Fun Spot in Myrtle Beach and then Fun Spot in Virginia Beach, before selling each and returning to Orlando to open Fun Spot America in June 1998. We added Fun Spot USA in Kissimmee in 2007.
What is your annual attendance?
Because we are free admission parks, it can be a challenge to get accurate numbers of the people who come into our park. Often with a family of four, the two kids may get all day armbands, while mom and dad may play a video game, get pizza or a coffee, or ride only one or two rides. Our best guesstimates, based on physical hand counts we do twice a year, are that we get about 450,000-500,000 in Orlando and then for Kissimmee park we get 650,000-700,000. We know we are getting over a million people into our parks. But in Orlando that makes you one of the smaller players!
How much do your rely on Universal and other neighbouring attractions for your trade?
We are thankful for the “big three” of Orlando – Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaLife – for they have transformed this city. Harry Potter [at Universal] did a lot to increase traffic on International Drive. We saw some effect from it. People often choose Fun Spot on their second, third and fourth trips to Orlando, but because of our value, we often get a higher percentage of repeat customers than the big three.
How difficult is it competing with the big boys?
We don’t compete with the big three, rather we try to complement them. By staying open until midnight, we are an option for families after they have left the large theme parks. While the big three do a great deal of national and international marketing to bring people to Orlando, we only do local advertising to reach people once they are here. We also pursue people who have purchased timeshares and vacation homes and are returning to Orlando on an almost yearly basis.
What makes Fun Spot unique?
I would like to say it is the four US patents we have on our go-kart track designs, but I know it is our value for money and customer service that keeps people returning to Fun Spot. For fiveyears we were named by the Orlando Sentinel as the “Best Budget Attraction”. Our free admission means a great deal to families when only one or two of the people want to do the rides but the rest want to be with them. Plus you can pay for your rides one at a time. This “a la carte” method make us different from our big neighbours.
Why is now the right time for this expansion?
In the past 10 years we have had growth each year, during the boom, during the recession. We proved we could be profitable regardless of the national economy. This will be the biggest investment we have ever done. It’s a huge risk for us, but I would like to think brighter days are ahead for the USA.
Was it difficult getting the land?
Not at this moment in time. Land values have sharply decreased, so the 10 acres we purchased cost about a third of what they were only five years ago. The price was great, and the seller was eager. Getting the banks to do a short term note was the only tricky part.
What is planned as part of the expansion?
We want to do things with as little debt as possible, so we will be doing our expansion in phases. The first phase is the $20 million investment with an out-and- back wooden coaster by Great Coasters International called White Lightning, a Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster, a SkyCoaster, a couple of new flat rides, plus new food booths, a new parking lot, a new entrance building and more landscaping. This will be complete by June 1, 2013. Phase two will include four water rides in a mini waterpark, an expanded food court, expanded arcade, more birthday rooms, and possibly a small dinner show. This all depends on how profitable phase one is next summer, so it could be a year or five years away.
Why did you choose the two coasters?
Rollercoasters really change an FEC into an amusement park. We knew it was the next step for us. II rode a new one at Quassy Amusement Park in Connecticut and that hooked me. Plus it works well for a family themed, value park, and there is no
other wooden coaster in Orlando. Then we knew you needed another coaster for people to go back and forth to. Chance and Vekoma offered us a good family coaster with a small footprint, which was important to us.
What sort of increase in attendance and per capita spending do you expect once the expansion is complete?
We believe Fun Spot America park will double its attendance to a million people. Rollercoasters change everything. We are putting more effort towards marketing and our relationships with key ticket sellers and other local partners in Orlando. Our only concern is that the increase to our Orlando park does not hurt our Kissimmee park, but we believe more is more!
Below: An artist’s impression of Fun Spot America after the phase one and phase two expansion