by Paul Ruben
What is going on with American theme parks? They’re dropping like flies. Recently I visited Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, Winter Haven, Florida, the day before it was due to close and have all 38 rides removed. Unless I get a hankerin’ to stare at their banyon tree, guess I won’t return for a while; not gonna happen.
Cypress Gardens’ demise as a theme park can be traced to the three hurricanes that struck the park in 2004. Then-owner Kent Buescher was never adequately reimbursed by his insurer and eventually filed for bankruptcy. Rob Harper and Brian Philpot of Land South Holdings bought the now 72-year-old park in a bankruptcy sale last year, but were unable to operate it successfully as a combination ride park, waterpark, zoo, botanical garden and ski show. With the rides gone I’m guessing they can now build condominiums.
Before that, the ill-conceived Hard Rock Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, closed and will be auctioned off. Will the next prospective park operator who wants to build at the seashore, and who expects to attract visitors during daytime beach time, please call and ask if it’s a good idea? I’ll even save you the call; it ain’t.
Then there is Coney Island’s Astroland, forced into closure at the end of last summer by an aggressive real estate developer. It now looks promising, however, that the city of New York may buy the land and restore the rides. Sure hope so.
Before I forget, there is also Wild West World, Wichita, Kansas, that opened and closed in a 63-day span. One could write a textbook about clueless park planning and management from this debacle.
Don’t forget the case of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where three parks recently disappeared. Erieview Park, Geneva, Ohio, and Conneaut Lake Park, Conneaut Lake, Ohio, closed in 2006, followed in 2007 by Geauga Lake, Aurora, Ohio. Nearby Waldameer Park, Erie, Pennsylvania (Paul Nelson and Steve Gorman) seized the moment, introduced a major wood coaster in 2008, and have seen their gross revenues increase by more than 30%. Good for them!
Nevertheless, that’s at least seven parks closed in recent memory. For a variety of reasons, I enjoyed them all, and will miss them. Fortunately, most of the rides survive and will operate elsewhere. It’s business, of course. Like the magician’s rabbit, hare today, gone tomorrow.
It’s not like I haven’t seen old parks vanish. But after a 30-year frenzy of bulldozing old parks and building shiny new theme parks I thought the consolidation had come to an end. And to tell you the truth, the closing of a new park today, one to which I had not become emotionally attached, is acceptable. It’s business; I understand. But the loss of just one of the wonderful old parks brings grief to this Park Hopper.