Archive for May, 2010

Keeping Cedar Point pretty

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From toledoblade.com

SANDUSKY — Vertical thrills abound at Cedar Point, but Tom Roberts is about the green, not the scream.

His task is creating visual comfort to soften these 364 acres of mostly asphalt, concrete, and steel for the 3 million people who visit each year.

“If it were not there, you would notice. It’s always in the peripheral vision of people,” says Mr. Roberts, the landscaping supervisor and a 1969 Bowsher High School graduate. “It’s almost like being an entertainer. Every day you have an audience and you want to leave them thinking, ‘Wow! Is that Cedar Point beautiful!'”

Framing the image of the 1870-vintage park are trees and bushes of all sizes and bloom times, tens of thousands of annuals being planted into June, hundreds of flower-packed pots, hanging baskets, and dozens of varieties of ornamental grasses. There’s the 32-foot-by-50-foot American flag planted last week with red and white begonias and blue ageratums. The hybrid tea roses that were here when he was hired to pull weeds 37 years ago have been replaced by nearly 500 of the fairly new Knock Out variety, easy-care, repeat bloomers that resist diseases such as blackspot.

He knows that creating shade is essential. So is green screening and defensive flora, such as hedges that deter people from traipsing through flower beds.

“The more you can make it people-proof, the better off you are,” says Mr. Roberts, 59. “It’s quite a garden when you see it as a garden and not just a big old amusement park.”

In jeans and work boots, he’s on his phone and two-way radio, climbing in and out of his truck to talk with contractors who exterminate pests and tend to the big trees. He calls a staffer about a protruding hose near the paddle-wheel boat ride, and later, about a small sinkhole at Cedar Point Marina.

In front of Bay Harbor restaurant, famous for sunset watching, a rocky swale that accepts water runoff is beautifully arranged with Japanese blood grass, adagio grass, a gnarled weeping birch, hostas, Japanese maples, dwarf blue spruce, and spirea; a few were transplanted from elsewhere in the park.

“Some of the plants get moved like furniture,” he says.

A boater who keeps his float at the marina, Mr. Roberts eyeballs lake conditions whenever possible. “Whitecaps,” he notes one day earlier this month. “Prevailing winds from the southwest.”

He was hired as seasonal help in 1973, a year after another Toledo native, the park’s longtime CEO, Richard Kinzel, came to work in food operations. Mr. Roberts had just earned an education degree at Bowling Green State University, but classroom jobs were scarce. Six years later, he was running the department.

“I really took to it,” he says. “Grass has been good to me.”

The year-round staff of seven is augmented by 14 people hired March through Labor Day. “I’m just the ringmaster.”

A crew of six mow grass from 5 to 9 a.m. daily, four to six others plant and maintain flowers, and three water from midnight to 8:30 a.m. and during the day as needed. When the park opens, most of the landscaping staff heads for other parts of the property.

Each time a new ride is built, landscaping is installed. When the marina was renovated, lawns and plants went in. There’s a pair of hotel grounds to look after: the Breakers and Sandcastle, and an RV campground.

More than 100 new cottages and cabins constructed at Lighthouse Point in 2001 and 2004 required substantial landscaping between each of the dwellings, as well as perennials and grasses around a new rocky pond.

“Whenever you put something in, you have to know the ramifications of caring for it. Everything requires some effort if you want it to look nice.”

Take blue lyme grass. Planted in several places, it can tolerate strong winds and sand, but it’s invasive and creeps under the train’s tracks to the chagrin of the engineer.

Mother Nature provides Mr. Roberts’ greatest challenges, ranging from the occasional ferocious storm whipping off Lake Erie to the sand that blows constantly into grass and beds. “We shovel it out, scoop it, whatever it takes.”

Geese make messes and eat new grass. Rabbits are voracious munchers too.

“Everything we do here the homeowner can do,” he says. “If somebody takes the initiative, they can learn a lot.”

Fall and winter, the permanent staff rakes tons of leaves, prunes, and shovels snow from locations where the 250-year-round employees work.

In the do-whatcha-gotta-do category, he realized with dismay one day that a substantial section of a hedge on the midway was dead and it was too late to order a replacement.

“So we spray-painted the hedge green. It was so dense, I’ll bet not one out of a thousand people realized it was a dead hedge.”

Two New Offerings at Cedar Point: Rock Band, Live and a Breakfast with the PEANUTS Characters

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Cedar Point Press Release

SANDUSKY, Ohio, May 29 — Beginning next weekend, there will be even more to do at Cedar Point.  Musically inclined guests have a chance to become a rock star while early risers will be able to have breakfast with their favorite PEANUTS characters.

On Saturday, June 5, Rock Band, Live will premiere in the Jack Aldrich Theatre, near the front of the park.  One of five new shows that will be introduced at the Sandusky, Ohio, amusement park/resort this summer, Rock Band, Live will be a real-life version of Rock Band®, the popular video game produced by MTV Games.

Before each show, guests will be able to display their talent on the drums, guitar or bass guitar to win a chance to perform in one of the Rock Band, Live shows throughout the day.  Winners will be chosen before each show and will receive a backstage pass and perform on stage with the Rock Band, Live cast members.

In celebration of the Rock Band, Live premiere, Cedar Point will be hosting a competition for guests and Facebook visitors alike to become the Rock Band, Live Champion and be the first guest performers in the Rock Band, Live premiere show on Saturday, June 5.

Monday through Wednesday, May 31 to June 2, a Facebook drawing will be held to choose six groups at random to compete in the Rock Band, Live competition.  On Saturday, June 5, two groups of park guests will be chosen to challenge the Facebook winners for the title of Rock Band, Live Champion.  Winners will receive a VIP tour of Cedar Point, gift certificates from the Hard Rock Cafe and various other prizes.  For more information, please visit cedarpoint.com.

Also beginning this weekend will be Breakfast Buffet with the PEANUTS Characters, a breakfast with your favorite PEANUTS characters at the Midway Market.  On Saturdays and Sundays beginning June 5, guests can dine with their favorite Peanuts characters from 8:30-10 a.m.  Characters will greet guests and visit each table to take pictures with the loveable characters.

For additional entertainment, the summer spectacular Hot Summer Lights: Fire Up the Night will open for the season on Friday, June 4.  Shows will be daily at 10 p.m., weather permitting.  This sensory experience showcases a combination of music, sound, light, video and pyrotechnics.

Returning this season for its 22nd year will be CoasterMania. On Friday and Saturday, June 4-5, approximately 1,500 thrill-seekers will invade Cedar Point to challenge the park’s roller coasters, participate in exclusive tours and more.  On Friday evening, there will be a presentation from Walter Bolliger of Bolliger and Mabillard Consulting Engineers (B & M) who designed Cedar Point’s Raptor (1994) and Mantis (1996) coasters.

For more information about these special events, please visit cedarpoint.com or call the park’s General Information Line at 419.627.2350.

Shoot the Rapids Opening Delayed, Again

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From Cedar Point’s Facebook…

Cedar Point has an official update on Shoot the Rapids. The ride will not open this weekend as planned. Our preopening procedures are taking longer than expected, but we anticipate it will open soon. We apologize for the delay, and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s open.

Shoot the Rapids Testing

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Cedar Fair: Financial roller coaster looks better in 2010

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From the Sandusky Register

SANDUSKY

Cedar Fair is still carrying a big load of debt on its back, and the deal with Apollo Global Management that was supposed to remove that weight collapsed in April.

But Cedar Fair executives, who find themselves still running a publicly traded company, say they are moving quickly to fix the problem.

Cedar Fair hopes to announce a method for dealing with the company’s debt when it hosts its annual meeting at 9 a.m. June 7 at the Sandusky State Theatre, two top company executives say.

Dealing the company’s approximately $1.6 billion in debt has been the top priority ever since a deal for Apollo Global Management to acquire Cedar Fair fell through, said Dick Kinzel, Cedar Fair’s chairman, chief executive officer and president, and Peter Crage, Cedar Fair’s corporate vice president, finance, and chief financial officer.

Discussions on how to fix that are moving quickly, they said.

The next major task after dealing with the debt will be to figure out a succession plan for Kinzel, 69, whose current contract with the company expires in January 2012, Kinzel said.

“You can’t hide the clock,” he said.

Cedar Fair executives are hoping for a turnaround year in 2010 at Cedar Point and the company’s other amusement parks. Cedar Fair has invested in new rides at its parks, but the season also will depend on factors that are out of the company’s control, such as the weather and the recovery of the economy, Kinzel said.

During an interview at his offices that lasted about 40 minutes, Kinzel discussed several other points. Among them:

* At the end of 2011, if Cedar Fair knows it had a good season, the board will consider resuming cash distributions in 2011.

“It will be a very, very modest distribution,” Kinzel said.

The goal is to make a small distribution to at least help unitholders with their tax liabilities next year, he said.

Q Funding, the company’s largest investor, last week urged that cash distributions resume immediately.

* Cedar Fair is no longer attempting to sell the Worlds of Fun park in Kansas City, Mo., and Valleyfair park in Shakopee, Minn.

“The only reason we put those up for sale was to try to save the distribution,” Kinzel explained.

The future of the Great America park in Santa Clara, Calif., is less certain.

Local officials are trying to put in a new football stadium next to the park for the San Francisco 49ers. Cedar Fair filed a lawsuit against the city and the 49ers last month, saying that the project violates California’s environmental regulations.

* Kinzel said Cedar Fair will continue to maintain Cedar Point’s status as the amusement park with the most roller coasters and rides in the world.

“This is the crown jewel, Cedar Point,” he said. “Capital will continue to go into Cedar Point.”

* Despite speculation that Cedar Fair might merge with the bankrupt Six Flags amusement park chain, Kinzel says he and his board have never had any discussions with the management of Six Flags about merging with the rival company.

Six Flags bondholders interested in buying the company came to Cedar Fair to ask questions about the amusement park business. Testimony in Six Flags’ bankruptcy hearings revealed that meeting and sparked all of the merger speculation, Kinzel said.

The debt problem, which forced Cedar Fair to suspend cash distributions last year, was supposed to be fixed when Apollo Global Management bought the company and took it private. Unitholders resisted the deal, which was terminated on April 6.

Some of the possible new options for dealing with the debt include amending the company’s current bank agreement, negotiating a brand new agreement with the banks, issuing more units in the stock market, selling assets or doing a bond offering, Kinzel and Crage said.

Cedar Fair has hired J.P. Morgan to weigh its options for dealing with its debt. Opportunities to deal with the debt are much better than last year, Crage said.

“The markets really have shifted since last year,” Crage said.

Kinzel said he did not know if he will retire in 2012. That’s up to the board, he said.

He said it’s possible he could stay on the board after that.

“No decisions have been made,” he emphasized.

“Succession planning is very, very important to this board and very important to me,” he said.

Kinzel said he believes the proposed merger with Apollo failed largely because of the emotional attachment investors have to Cedar Point. Many of the unitholders are small investors who live in the Sandusky area.

Kinzel said he’ll spend much of the time at the annual meeting walking unitholders through the last nine months and what motivated Cedar Fair to try to sell the company to Apollo.

Six Flags went bankrupt last year “and their investors lost everything,” Kinzel said. Cedar Fair was struggling at the same time Six Flags ran into trouble, he noted.

Crage said it was very unlikely that Cedar Fair would have gone bankrupt, too, although in 2009 “there was a possibility we could go into default,” he said. If that had happened, the banks would have renegotiated Cedar Fair’s credit terms, likely imposing higher interest costs, Crage said.

With the end of distributions, once the company got the offer from Apollo and negotiated the best deal it could, Cedar Fair had a responsibility to let the unitholders decide, Kinzel said.

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