Cedar Fair

Cedar Fair purchases old J.D. Byrider property

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From the Sandusky Register

Sandusky

Cedar Fair has purchased the former J.D. Byrider building and a 13.8 acre lot at 2000 Cleveland Road for $735,000.

The purchase on June 22 from Starland Investment Co. is part of Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet’s plan to beautify the entrance corridors to the park and the city.

“People should see some enhancements to the area,” said Annie Zelm, a Cedar Point spokeswoman. “We look forward to developing it.”

 

Cedar Point kicks off 2012 season

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From the Sandusky Register

SANDUSKY

John Hildebrandt can’t just walk Cedar Point’s midway.

He stops and greets people, he talks to employees and he picks up other people’s trash — something he does a lot.

“I carry two of these with me all the time,” Hildebrandt said as he pulled out two hand wipes from his pocket. “We keep the park immaculate for the guests. That is our promise.”

Hildebrandt picks up cigarette butts, drink containers and other trash to throw out at the nearest trash bin.

Hildebrandt is vice president and general manager at Cedar Point. He is the man who is responsible for the daily operations of the park. And he likes a clean park.

During the park-operating season Hildebrandt starts his day before he walks into the park. He said he reads reports of what has happened in the park the night before. As he drives up the causeway, as he walks the park, he is looking for anything out of place, anything not right.

As Hildebrandt walks around the park he listens to how employees interact with guests. He walks up to ride platforms and listens to see if ride operators are following the script of greeting guests and discussing the ride’s safety procedures.

As new CEO Matt Ouimet has said: It is Hildebrandt’s park.

And on the park’s 143th opening day, Hildebrandt arrived before the park opened and was there until after it closed.

“It is tradition that on opening day and on closing day I am here from morning to close,” Hildebrandt said.

Cedar Fair foresees growth

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From the Toledo Blade

Cedar Fair LP said Thursday it expects a record dividend in 2013 and foresees higher revenues because of new initiatives that include a fresh ad campaign, more e-commerce via updated Web sites, a nighttime light show at Cedar Point to get customers to stay longer, and “fast lane” programs at all 11 parks that let customers pay extra to bypass long lines on popular rides.

“We believe there are substantial growth opportunities available to us,” Matt Ouimet, Cedar Fair’s new chief executive officer, told Wall Street analysts in New York during his first investor presentation since replacing the company’s longtime leader, Dick Kinzel, this month.

During the two-hour presentation, Mr. Ouimet, 53, a former executive with the Disney Co. who was chosen in June to replace Mr. Kinzel, outlined his vision for the Sandusky-based amusement park company, a plan he called “New Fun” — a word play on the company’s FUN ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.

Financially, Mr. Ouimet said Cedar Fair’s primary goal is attractive returns for its shareholders. He said the company will continue its $1.60-a-share dividend this year, but expects a record dividend “of more than $2” a share in 2013. On Thursday, Cedar Fair’s stock closed up 60 cents a share at $24.53.

With a debt load still at $1.56 billion and 2011 revenues expected to be at $1.03 billion when the company reports its earnings Feb. 21, Cedar Fair said it expects modest sales growth in 2012. But the company ended 2011 with $35 million in free cash flow and it expects to increase its free cash flow by $50 million beginning in 2013 because of interest reduction on its outstanding debt, Brian Witherow, the company’s chief financial officer, said. By 2016, Cedar Fair expects to show a compounded annual growth rate of 4 percent, with its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, or ebitda, reaching $450 million.

Mr. Witherow said 2011 adjusted ebitda earnings are expected to be $375 million.

Mr. Ouimet said Cedar Fair’s expected higher dividends will hinge on earnings growth. The company expects to achieve growth through a number of moves, some already implemented and others announced Thursday by the CEO.

In November, Cedar Fair hired a new ad agency, Cramer-Krasselt of Chicago, to handle its strategic planning, branding, advertising, media buying, and other duties for its 10 U.S. amusement parks. Mr. Ouimet said the agency created a new ad campaign based on multigenerational memories of the company’s parks with the goal of getting customers to come to the parks as a family.

Cedar Fair also is updating its parks’ Web sites to accommodate more e-commerce and drive customers, Mr. Ouimet said. On Wednesday, Cedar Point debuted its new Web site and unveiled a two-price ticket strategy — a one-day adult ticket for $44.99 if bought online, and $51.99 if bought at the gate.

“We want to train the consumer to know the best ticket value is on our Web site,” the CEO said.

Another change recently implemented is allowing Cedar Point and other parks to offer season passes paid for on an installment plan of four equal payments.

Mr. Ouimet said the installment plan could be “one of the most impactful changes the industry could make” and eventually embed visits to a Cedar Fair park into a customer’s routine by giving them time to budget for it, essentially paying a portion each month like a cable TV bill.

“For us, such a model would improve cash flow, reduce annual insurance, reduce our marketing costs for seasonal passes, particularly where we spend a good chunk of our marketing money, and most probably increase the seasonal pass holders’ spending when they do visit,” he said.

The CEO said he is implementing several small changes at the company’s parks, including never-frozen fresh hamburgers at all its hamburger stands, and early entry programs for guests staying at Cedar Fair resorts or its resort partners.

In the future, Cedar Fair will continue testing new ideas at one park and, if successful, deploying them at its other parks the next year.

Based on a test last season, the company will implement “Fast Lane” — a program tested in July and August at Kings Island park near Cincinnati — at all of its amusement parks this season.

Fast Lane charges customers $50 over the admission price for the privilege of jumping to the front of the line for every popular ride. Each park will limit the number of Fast Lane passes sold each day so as not to disrupt customers who do not buy Fast Lane.

Mr. Ouimet said that for the half-season Fast Lane was used at Kings Island, it generated close to $1 million in revenue.

This season Cedar Fair will test a new light show, “Luminosity — Ignite the Night,” at Cedar Point. If successful, the combination of lights, fireworks, and music will be duplicated at all Cedar Fair parks.

Cedar Point spokesman Robin Innes said the park is finalizing details of Luminosity, but it will be held at a fixed spot on the Cedar Point midway nightly beginning in June. The idea had been under consideration for a while, he added.

Mr. Ouimet said that from his 17 years working at Disney, he learned that there are just two things that keep people at a park through dinner — lights and fireworks.

“You are trying to keep them through the dinner or keep them late enough. They stay in a resort and come the next day. … We’ve tried everything throughout the industry forever and the only thing is lights and fireworks, and the reason that works is because you can’t do it ’til after dark. It’s just structural,” he said.

Kinzel reflects on wild ride

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From the Toledo Blade

SANDUSKY — As he walked the vacant midway of Cedar Point amusement park one day last week, a blustery and cold wind off Lake Erie swirling about him, Dick Kinzel suddenly turned and pointed to a boarded-up fast-food stand.

“See that place?” he said, staring at the two-story “Walking Tacos” stand. “That used to be my first office there up on the second floor. Things sure have changed.”

For Cedar Point, its parent firm, Cedar Fair LP, and especially for Mr. Kinzel, things will change again in a very large way on Jan. 3 when the 71-year-old chief executive officer retires after 39 years with the Sandusky-based amusement park company — 25 years as its top executive.

The former Toledoan, who was a vice president with the company and general manager of its Valleyfair park in Minneapolis from 1978 to to 1986, is among a handful of men to run the amusement park chain since its founding as Cedar Point amusement center in 1906.

But it was under Mr. Kinzel’s stewardship, beginning when he became chief executive officer in 1986, that Cedar Point grew from a two-park mom-and-pop operation with revenues of $100 million into the current Cedar Fair LP conglomerate of 11 amusement parks, seven water parks and five hotels, which had revenues of $1.01 billion in 2010.

Last week, Mr. Kinzel, who lives on the Cedar Point island within walking distance of the amusement park, reflected on some of his triumphs and missteps, his best and most disappointing moments, and his impressions on the company and his industry over his almost 40 years at northwest Ohio’s premiere entertainment destination.

Mr. Kinzel, who remains a ball of energy, said he’ll most miss walking around Cedar Point on a crowded day and interacting with customers.

“It’s been a way of life for a lot of years and I’m going to miss it, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I’ll miss just coming in and walking the parks and being with the people, walking the park with [park general manager] John Hildebrandt or the general managers, and talking about what can we do to make them better.”

As Mr. Kinzel departs, Cedar Fair is but a few years away from having changed from a limited partnership whose shareholders were mostly individuals concerned about its “distribution,” or quarterly dividend, to one now dominated by institutional investors who care more about its daily share prices and quarterly earnings.

Over the last two years, Mr. Kinzel has been in several shareholder fights with the company’s largest investor, Texas hedge funds Q Investments, over the direction of the company.

Q Investments led a shareholder fight that eventually stripped Mr. Kinzel of the title of company chairman, which he held from 2003 to 2011.

Mr. Kinzel said he won’t miss dealing with Wall Street. “I much more prefer dealing with the retail base and having the shareholders in here. … we used to have shareholders just come in and say hello, and we sort of lost some of that,” he said.

Nowadays, “You have to deal with the bankers more than you just deal with what you like to do. You have to figure that I went for 23 years and we never needed a financial banker in here because we paid for all our capital out of cash flow and we paid the distributions. And we were only leveraged about three times.

“It was smooth sailing for 23 years,” he said.

But Mr. Kinzel admits that he is partly responsible for the de-emphasis of small investors — prior to 2006, 80 percent of Cedar Fair’s shares were held by individuals, but now 55 percent of its shares are held by large institutional investors — because of the $1.2 billion acquisition of Paramount Parks that he engineered in 2006.

The deal added five amusement parks to Cedar Fair’s portfolio and took its annual revenues from $569 million to $1 billion.

History, Mr. Kinzel said, is likely to prove the Paramount acquisition his biggest achievement as chairman and CEO.

“That’s probably the thing I’m proudest of, making that acquisition,” he said. “They put it up for bid for auction, and we bid on it. We paid a very high price … but we knew there were five great parks in five strategic geographic locations.”

However, Cedar Fair struggled with a high debt load for three years after the acquisition, forcing it to consider being acquired by private equity group Apollo Global Management LLC of New York. The $2.4 billion deal eventually was called off after shareholders indicated they would not approve the sale.

Looking back, Mr. Kinzel said that if he could do one thing differently with the Paramount deal, “I wish we could have … done a public offering for the stock instead of trying to pay off the debt out of cash flow. That’s what sort of got us in trouble with the banks, is when the recession hit and we couldn’t come back,” he said.

Trying to absorb the debt of the deal left the company weakened, and it was forced to suspend its dividend, a move dictated by loan agreements, but one that cost it goodwill with its smaller shareholders. Many small shareholders sold their stock as a result, and it was snapped up by institutional investors intently interested in the company’s financial bottom line.

“In hindsight, I’d do it all again … but I certainly would do an offering for [new shares] to get that debt down,” Mr. Kinzel said.

Mr. Kinzel’s other strategic regret is letting the opportunity to buy Kings Island near Cincinnati get away in 2000. The company acquired Kings Island in 2006 in the Paramount deal, but Cedar Fair could have had it six years earlier at a lower price. A $40 million tax liability on top of the sale price killed the sale to Cedar Fair in 2000, he said.

“Kings Island, that was always my favorite park outside of the Cedar Fair system. It opened in 1972, the year I started at Cedar Point, so we knew the park, and I visited it just about every year just to see what they were doing,” Mr. Kinzel said.

With retirement just days away, the CEO said he is “real proud” of Cedar Fair’s financial position as he leaves. “If you look at our projections, our forecast for this year, we’re going to leave the company with record projected revenues, record attendance, and projected record [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization]. So I’m real pleased. It’s a nice way to go out.”

A known name

Mr. Kinzel also is most proud of the fact that Cedar Fair went from a regional company to an international brand under his watch. One of the company’s most successful parks now is its Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, and every year Cedar Point is visited by coaster enthusiasts from several continents eager to try its world-renowned collection of roller coasters.

“We put in the first 200-foot, 300-foot, and 400-foot coasters and I think our capital [expenditures] plan, our five-year plan for all these years has been good. It’s kept attendance coming and revenues increasing every year,” he said.

“It’s sort of nice to be the trendsetter in some things, and certainly Cedar Point is known for the roller coasters. To be voted the No. 1 amusement park for the last 14 years, most of that is attributable to not only the cleanliness and our employees but also to putting in those major attractions,” Mr. Kinzel said.

“You know, it’s always been a surprise to me that when we put in the Magnum XL-200 [in 1989], no one followed through with a big coaster like that,” he said. “Then we put in the 300-foot coaster. Then we put in a 400-foot coaster, and Six Flags did match us. They modeled theirs after that one, but other than that, no one’s really modeled the success we’ve had with the big steel coasters.”

While coaster enthusiasts view Mr. Kinzel as the main architect of Cedar Point’s collection of 17 roller coasters, Mr. Kinzel said he didn’t set out to make the park the “coaster capital.”

“I was basically just doing my job — you do what you do to draw attendance, to bring attendance into the park,” he said. But building the Magnum in 1989 “just changed the whole environment of what Cedar Point was,” Mr. Kinzel said.

“All of a sudden Cedar Point was the coaster capital of the world, and John Hildebrandt, who is now the general manager of Cedar Point, was vice president of marketing then, and he took that and ran with it and helped build the brand,” he said.

Scariest moment

The launch of the Magnum XL-200 also gave Mr. Kinzel his most memorable — albeit scariest — moment in 39 years at Cedar Fair.

“When we opened the [310-foot high] Millennium Force in 2000, that thing, they ran it for a month before they’d let anybody on it,” Mr. Kinzel said. “But with the Magnum XL-200, it was the Saturday before the park opened and we were on the platform. And they sent the first train around — one time around! — and somebody said, ‘Let’s go,’ and we hopped in the front seat and we went up that crazy hill.

“Coming in, the brakes weren’t on in the station. You know how you come around and you come back into that station and there’s a set of brakes there? None of those brakes were hooked up and we didn’t know it,” Mr. Kinzel said.

“So we went screaming into the station. Nobody was hurt or anything but that was a real exciting day,” Mr. Kinzel said, laughing at the memory. “You know what though? I knew we had the best ride in the world at that point. I got off that ride saying ‘We got a winner’ because … I had ridden all the coasters and there was nothing like Magnum XL-200 when that was put in. Needless to say, after that day, we run [coasters] for months before we’ll let anyone on one,” he added.

Another coaster, Cedar Point’s Disaster Transport, a lightly regarded ride by coaster enthusiasts, gave Mr. Kinzel his worst moment over the decades.

Built as an outdoor “bobsled” coaster, the family-friendly attraction was later converted to an indoor space-themed ride by Mr. Kinzel. “The story I always tell about it is we had a dog ride and we took a dog ride and put a cover on it,” he said.

“We had a board meeting on opening day and I had the board out there and some guy came right up to me with his little kid and said, ‘You named that right. That’s a disaster.’ And he just walked away,” Mr. Kinzel said. “What can you say?”

Attractive target

Over his 25 years as CEO, Mr. Kinzel has been involved in several major Cedar Fair acquisitions. But during his years with the company, Mr. Kinzel said, Cedar Fair itself often was an acquisition target, more so than is known.

“We’ve been courted — while I’ve been at Cedar Point — many times. By Taft Broadcasting, right after they built Kings Island, Marriott tried to buy us twice, and Anheuser-Busch wanted us. Up until we went public [in 1987] there were a lot of people courting us,” Mr. Kinzel said.

“Marriott was going to build three parks with us, and they ultimately built two of them. They didn’t buy us, but they hired a lot of our people. Thirty-two people from Cedar Point went to the Chicago [Great America] park alone,” Mr. Kinzel said.

“That’s when [former CEO Robert] Munger decided to promote from within and not go outside to rebuild his team. That’s what gave me my big break. Well, actually, Marriott gave me my big break I guess,” he said.

As he heads into retirement, Mr. Kinzel said he plans to see what people who don’t work throughout a summer do. For starters, he bought golf clubs and plans to try the game.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, and I hope I can go there in September. I’m going on a cruise in February, and I’m just going to do stuff where I don’t have a calendar,” he said.

“I’ve never had a Labor Day or a Fourth of July or a Memorial Day off in my life, or at least in the last 40 years,” he said. “I’ve never had a summer vacation … but that’s just part of our policy. You have to be here.”

But now that his successor, former Disney Co. executive Matt Ouimet, will be the person walking the midway, Mr. Kinzel said he feels good about the future.

“I’ve been asked to be on a couple of projects from a civic standpoint but I’ve been telling everybody I just want to take six months to a year just to not do anything. I’ve been wound up tighter than a $2 clock and I just want to unwind a little bit for six months to a year,” he said.

Cedar Point Golden Ticket 2011

Cedar Point named Best Amusement Park in the World

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Cedar Point Golden Ticket 2011

Cedar Point Press Release

SANDUSKY, Ohio – For the 14th consecutive year, Cedar Point amusement park/resort in Sandusky, Ohio, was named as the “Best Amusement Park in the World” in the prestigious Golden Ticket Awards presented annually by Amusement Today newspaper.

Cedar Point also received another very special award as Dick Kinzel, CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company that owns operates Cedar Point and 10 other amusement parks, was selected to become a member of the Legends Series as the 2011 Publisher’s Pick that recognizes the top examples of dedication, leadership and achievement in the amusement industry.

These announcements were made late Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17, during a special ceremony held at Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, Ind.

The Golden Ticket Awards are given to the highest-rated parks in approximately two dozen categories as determined by a panel of experienced amusement park fans from around the world. Headquartered in Arlington, Texas, Amusement Today is an international publication that covers amusement and waterpark news and trends.

“Dick Kinzel has been instrumental in the growth and success of the Cedar Fair family of parks,” said Gary Slade, publisher and editor-in-chief of Amusement Today. “Because of his leadership, Cedar Fair maintained stability during a very tumultuous period for the amusement park industry. He started, he continued and he won the Coaster Wars. His vision for family entertainment has made him a legend in the industry.”

In addition to winning the highly coveted award for the world’s best amusement park, Cedar Point’s Millennium Force roller coaster was also named as the “Best Steel Roller Coaster” for the second consecutive year and the sixth time since its introduction in 2000.

“This is a very special day for us,” said John Hildebrandt, vice president and general manager of Cedar Point. “Not only is our park and our roller coaster named as the best in the world, but Dick Kinzel, who has been a mentor and trusted friend to many of us in the industry, has been recognized for his many achievements. It is a very proud moment.”

Millennium Force had lots of company in the “Best Steel Roller Coaster” category, with two other Cedar Point coasters rated in the Top Ten and another pair ranked in the Top 25. The Top Thrill Dragster (9th) that stands 42-stories tall and perennial favorite Magnum Xl-200 (10th) were the park’s two other Top Ten finalists while the Raptor inverted roller coaster was ranked 18th and the twisting Maverick captured the 21st spot.

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Cedar Point is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the country. With 75 rides, including 17 roller coasters, the park has more rides than any park in the world. Built in 1870, Cedar Point is the second oldest amusement park in North America.

Cedar Point is now open for HalloWeekends 15, a family fall festival of fun and frights, Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 16-18 through Oct. 28-30.

For more information, please visit the park’s website at cedarpoint.com or call Cedar Point’s General Information Line at 419.627.2350.

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