Cedar Fair stands ready to spend big money on a new roller coaster for 2013 at Cedar Point that will change the park landscape.
Code-named “CP Alt.Winged,” the coaster will have the “longest drop, run the fastest and be the longest ride” of its kind, Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet wrote in Feb. 15 memo to Cedar Fair’s board of directors.
The total projected cost of the project is $25 million, a price that includes removing the park’s Space Spiral and Disaster Transport rides and restructuring the park entrance.
Ouimet was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Lee Alexakos, corporate vice president of marketing, declined to confirm the information in the memo.
“We have not announced any plans for 2013 but we did announce a $25 million investment,” Alexakos said. “This will be one of the largest capital expenditures ever.”
Alexakos said that with any ride or attraction Cedar Point undertakes, the company is always looking to set records.
The Swiss-based Bolliger & Mabillard Consulting Engineers is set to design the new ride, which was described in the memo as having a “Front Gate Statement— a roller coaster that flies overhead, rolls and flies back— highly visible above guests entering the park.”
The firm designed Cedar Point’s Raptor.
A winged coaster is designed to suspend riders on wings to the sides of the rails so there is no track above or below the guest.
Engineering schematics show a proposed coaster with gravity defying twists, curves and rolls.
“Rob Decker (Cedar Fair VP of planning and design) and others have done a great job of creating a compelling, economically attractive new coaster for Cedar Point,” Ouimet wrote. “We believe this particular ride design with this particular manufacturer balances the desire for marketable innovation and risk associated with early adaptations of prototypes.”
Bolliger & Mabillard designed the first winged coaster for installation in Italy at a park known as Gardaland. The Six Flags Great American park outside of Chicago also has one of the company’s winged coasters, called X-Flight.
The new ride at Cedar Point could promise to be a work horse available to guests at almost any time they are in the park.
“Rob talked to operators of the first one in Italy and found no unanticipated negatives and very high ride reliability (less than 1 percent operational downtime).
Design plans show the new ride with a 170-foot tall lift that will fly overhead of park guests entering the park. It will have the longest track and longest ride time of any coaster of its style as it flies overhead, rolls and then fly back.
The huge roller coaster will dominate the front gate and the track will travel over a large parking area at the park.
“We have several coasters that cover parking lots,” Ouimet wrote. “Not necessarily ideal, but certainly acceptable given tight site constraints and the amount of land such attractions require.”
Disaster Transport and the Space Spiral both would have to come down if the site plan currently under consideration is chosen.
Part of the $25 million investment will also include renovations and upgrades at the park entrance from the parking lot.
Cedar Point general manger John Hildebrandt was not available for comment on Tuesday.
SANDUSKY — Walking along Cedar Point amusement park’s Midway and arriving at a spot where a new light-lasers-and-fireworks show will entertain guests this June, Matt Ouimet, Cedar Fair LP’s ebullient new chief executive officer, can no longer contain himself.
“Isn’t that a great view?” he says, gazing across a plaza where a large video screen has been removed to reveal the towering Millennium Force roller coaster bathed in the sunlight of a cloudless blue sky.
“We really should be open today. What a great day,” said Mr. Ouimet, not bothering to conceal his pride in Cedar Point, which this day is devoid of people other than a handful of workers painting, repairing, and primping the grand old amusement park for its May 12 opening.
The excitement in Mr. Ouimet’s voice is audible, the bounce in his step visible, and the twinkle in the eye of the former Disney Co. executive perceptible.
Although he spent 17 years as a trusted Disney lieutenant running its historic Disneyland theme park and popular cruise line, it is clear that in Sandusky, the 54-year-old Mr. Ouimet knows he finally is captain of his own ship: Cedar Fair, the nation’s third-largest amusement park chain with 11 parks, including the flagship Cedar Point, plus six water parks and five hotels.
Mr. Ouimet, who also spent short stints running Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Corinthian Colleges, was chosen last June to be president of Cedar Fair and heir-apparent to longtime company executive Dick Kinzel. When Mr. Kinzel retired on Jan. 1 after 25 years with Cedar Fair, Mr. Ouimet gained the CEO title and the keys to the candy store, so to speak.
The new CEO’s acumen as an amusement park executive is well documented — he developed and implemented a comprehensive strategic plan leading to a significantly improved and sustained performance for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005. And the Cedar Fair board clearly found in Mr. Ouimet a kindred replacement for Mr. Kinzel, whose fondness for walking the midway and riding the roller coasters revealed him to be both a top executive and a big kid at heart.
Mr. Ouimet acknowledged that if a staff meeting were to drag on too long, he isn’t above calling a halt and taking the participants into the park to ride a coaster, something he did one day last summer.
Above all, the new CEO said that he’s honored to be Cedar Fair’s new custodian and plans to take the company’s parks in directions they may not have gone before to enhance their value not just for customers, but also investors.
“A person once told me that there’s a difference between revering history and respecting history. Respecting history reminds you to look at what’s really important and learn from it,” Mr. Ouimet said. “Revering it means you never change anything, and if you don’t make change … we won’t be here in 20 or 30 years.
“And so I think that’s the delicate balance. When you’ve got such a loyal audience, you know you’re always going to have somebody disappointed that the ride they rode as a 5-year-old is no longer here,” Mr. Ouimet said. “But I hope they’re equally excited or more excited about what replaced it. I think that’s one of the hardest parts of my job is to try to figure out where change is good and where legacy is good.”
Though a confirmed Disney disciple — he still slips up and calls employees “cast members” about half the time — Mr. Ouimet said he has no plans to Disney-fy Cedar Fair.
Instead, he said, he plans to use lessons he learned from the premier theme-park firm wherever applicable at the Sandusky-based chain.
“It’s funny, but when I was considering this job I went back to the history here — there’s some wonderful books on it — and what you realize is there’s a lot of parallels,” Mr. Ouimet said. “I think the other thing that’s common here is the value system of the people who visit us and the people who work here,” he said.
“Disney was really founded on Midwestern values, and I think that, clearly in the Cedar Fair portfolio, that’s part of the DNA both for our guests and for our employees. That’s maybe why I feel as comfortable as I do here,” he said.
Last week Mr. Ouimet was having a hard time staying at his desk, the warm weather and sprucing up of Cedar Point beckoning him into the park like a siren’s song.
“So the good news is the weather was, I’m told, unseasonably warm. Clearly we’ve been able to get ahead of our maintenance and cosmetics and annual maintenance scheduled,” he said. “So the Millennium Force is almost fully painted, the Blue Streak is almost done, the Giant Wheel is almost done.”
However, special lighting for the park’s new nighttime show, “Luminosity: Ignite the Night,” is proving more complex than he imagined.
“That will be a little bit of crunch time, but that show doesn’t launch until the beginning of June, so I’ve got a little bit more time to work at night. But obviously when I open the park in May I don’t want the consumer to see a lot of construction,” Mr. Ouimet said.
At Disneyland, Mr. Ouimet and other Disney execs always were aware of Cedar Fair and its southern California venue, Knott’s Berry Farm. Disney never viewed Knott’s as a true competitor, Mr. Ouimet said, but it was always jealous of the Sandusky company’s ability to turn high profits.
“I studied Cedar Fair on and off for 20 years. They were known — and I give Dick Kinzel the credit for this — as great operators. … We studied them and marveled at the quality of the product they could deliver and still deliver the margins they delivered, because that was, candidly, where my focus was,” Mr. Ouimet said. “How could they do this and still deliver the returns they did to their investors?”
Mr. Ouimet admits he “never fully cracked the code.”
Now in control of Knott’s, Mr. Ouimet admits it would be nice if Disney executives looked his way and wonder how he does it. “I hope my former colleagues feel a little pressure. I know that they’re paying a little more attention,” he said.
If Disney officials are paying attention they might recognize a similar philosophy, a “kind of emotional sentiment” that Mr. Ouimet plans to emphasize at Cedar Fair.
“We are successful here if I can get you to come with your family and friends and laugh and smile. I’ve created value for you and value for my shareholders,” Mr. Ouimet said. “And whether it be Cedar Point, Knott’s, Kings Island, or Kings Dominion, that’s really our mission.”
Mr. Ouimet is convinced laughs and smiles go best with friends and family. And while Cedar Fair parks have been good at providing thrills, a friend and family connection may have been somewhat overlooked.
In response, it will launch a new marketing campaign, “Thrills Connect,” to show people that they can go to a Cedar Fair park, never get on a coaster, but still have a great day with family.
“We want to remind people that time with family, time with friends is precious. This is the place to spend it,” Mr. Ouimet said.
Over time, Mr. Ouimet said he plans to build more rides that families, from a young child to a grandmother, can enjoy together.
“I think that we’re known for thrill rides. I think we will always be known for thrill rides. But there clearly is an opportunity to expand the offering for children,” Mr. Ouimet said. “So you’ll see us over time try to make sure we’re adding enough for the young families. Because if I can get you to come at that age …you start your relationship with us earlier, you stay with us longer. I’m absolutely convinced of it.”
Several Cedar Fair’s parks have room to add family rides, but Cedar Point, built on a peninsula, has always been land-challenged. But Mr. Ouimet said the problem isn’t huge. There are underutilized areas, and employee dormitories on the grounds could be relocated off the peninsula, he said.
Mr. Ouimet said the most under-used attraction at Cedar Point is its beach — which was the focus of the park when it was founded in 1906.
“You can come here and not even know we have a beach. So one of the things we’re going to encourage people to do is make more use of the beach, because it’s nice,” said Mr. Ouimet, adding that he plans to add cabanas, tents, chairs, and other recreational services this summer to lure more visitors to the Cedar Point beach.
Mr. Ouimet could have started his tenure as CEO slowly, but he seemed determined to hit the ground running when his hiring was announced last June. The company, which had record revenues of $1.028 billion, profits of $72.2 million, and a record attendance of 23.4 million in 2011, had already announced last year a new $1 million attraction, Dinosaurs Alive!, for 2012 at its flagship Cedar Point park. The attraction, which made its debut last year at Kings Island near Cincinnati, is being duplicated at three other parks.
But Mr. Ouimet wanted customers to have more.
He ordered the creation of Luminosity, a mix of lights, lasers, fireworks, music, and dancing that reportedly will cost $6 million and, he hopes, entice people to stay longer in the park. If the show performs as expected, it will be duplicated next year at other parks.
He also asked for and got two new Peanuts characters — Woodstock and Franklin — to delight children at the park’s Camp Snoopy area, and he will have a Snoopy show to fill the Luminosity stage in the daytime.
The former Disney executive also turned his focus on three other items he hopes will make a difference: food, marketing, and ecommerce.
Cedar Point used to be known for its delicious french fries, but the recipe was labor-intensive. So several years ago it abandoned its popular recipe in favor of quicker service.
“[Operations vice president] Phil Bender, who runs about half of our parks for us, is now bringing back the original recipe at all the parks. …It will take us longer, but they should taste really, really good,” Mr. Ouimet said.
“The food in the parks, to some degree, has been an afterthought. So this year we’re going to have in our major burger places all fresh burgers, never frozen,” he said. “So with those, the french fries, and we’ve got some other little surprises that we’re going to do for the food, we’re trying to make that part of it a little better.”
Marketing, in Mr. Ouimet’s view, wasn’t a Cedar Fair strength. So he created a chief marketing officer position and filled it with Kelly Semmelroth, a former Disney colleague.
“I needed someone like Kelly, who can take what I would call modern marketing techniques. She is very much into CRM — customer relationship marketing — which is, ‘How much do I understand my consumers?’ ‘How do I capture their information?’ ‘How do I communicate with them in the digital era?’ ”
If the individual parks gathered that information it would have produced 11 databases, Mr. Ouimet said. But Ms. Semmelroth can centralize data to find economies of scale, yet still allow each park the independence to do what is needed for their markets, he added.
An area where Mr. Ouimet already has made progress is ecommerce. Previously, each park had its own Web site and methods of ticket sales. But late last year the new CEO standardized the Web sites so they can offer discounts on tickets and other premium services.
“From a system technology standpoint, the rides were as technologically advanced as anything you’ll see in the industry. From a back of the house standpoint, we were probably behind the curve,” Mr. Ouimet said of Cedar Fair’s previous technological efforts.
The growth of smart phones and other devices has necessitated new ways to reach customers, he said.
“The way I see it today is, before you grab your car keys to go on a road trip to Cedar Point, you grab your keyboard to see what you’re going to do and what tickets you’re going to buy,” he said. “So clearly, today when somebody sees our commercial on television, I guarantee you the vast majority are going to the Web site, and I needed that Web site to be able to be of value to the consumer.”
In return, Cedar Fair can communicate with its guests in ways it couldn’t before, the CEO added.
“I can now talk to every kid instantly, and I think that’s how you balance out the technology side. I guarantee you we’ll come up with things we haven’t even thought of yet using technology for people to enjoy the parks better, to stay in touch with each other.”
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.