Cedar Point’s parent company to see changes in finance, not entertainment

From The Morning Journal

SANDUSKY — Even with new ownership, the roller coasters will rise again in May when Cedar Point opens its 2010 season, its top executive said.

This week the amusement park’s owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., announced it will be bought by New York investment firm Apollo Global Management LLC. The acquisition made national news and will lead to changes on the company letterhead and its financial statements.

Cedar Point’s tangible assets will stay the same — Top Thrill Dragster will blast off, the Cedar Downs Racing Derby will spin and Snoopy will greet visitors around northern Ohio’s most famous Midway, said Dick Kinzel, chairman, president and chief executive officer for Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.

“The public won’t see any changes at all,” Kinzel said in an interview with The Morning Journal. “We’re going to be the same great quality and entertainment values that we had in the past.”

The only change that Cedar Fair will have is its financing, Kinzel said. The park’s money will come from Apollo Management Group, not the shareholders who buy and sell the publicly traded partnership units, he said.

“It’s business as usual,” he said. “It’s basically going to be the same company and if there was not a public event, most people wouldn’t even know it’s happening.”

Cedar Point next year will honor its group sales and season passes already sold, Kinzel said. The company also will keep its attitude of being a good corporate neighbor, he said.

“The involvement we have in the communities that we’re in is going to remain the same,” Kinzel said.

Sandusky will remain Cedar Fair’s corporate headquarters and the company will maintain its desire to be a good business neighbor, said Kinzel, who lives next to the park.

“Sandusky is our home,” Kinzel said.

“They would have to pry me out of here with bulldozers and dynamite,” he quipped. “Sandusky’s our home. It’s not only Cedar Fair’s home, it’s my home. This is it.”

Cedar Point visitors next year will get a new ride on Shoot the Rapids.

The new, 2,100-foot journey features a 85-foot tall hill, with a 45-degree drop, and another 49-foot drop to “shoot” through water rapids and rocks. The $10.5 million ride is the most expensive water ride Cedar Point has built, and it will carry about 1,200 riders an hour with 10-passenger boats taking three minute rides.

“All of our capital for next year is approved,” Kinzel said. “There’s going to be no changes to that.”

With two rollercoasters planned and smaller improvements spread out over Cedar Fair’s other parks, “it’s a $90 million package and that’s going to go ahead as planned,” he said.

Park officials will begin planning for the 2011 and 2012 seasons in February of next year, a typical schedule because some major rides are on the drawing board two or three years in advance, Kinzel said.

Cedar Fair will get a new board of directors, but Kinzel will stay on as chairman.

“Of all the discussions we’ve had, the main discussion was to get this contract done,” Kinzel said about the deal with Apollo Global Management.

The new members are not appointed yet, Kinzel said, although it may be possible to keep the company’s current leaders.

“They want management to stay in place,” Kinzel said. “I think I’ve got a great management team underneath me. They make me look good, they’ve made me look good for a long time. I think they want to keep that team in place.”

Earlier this year Cedar Fair sought buyers for its Valleyfair park in Minnesota and Worlds of Fun park in Missouri. Kinzel noted Cedar Fair had a “tremendous debt situation” to deal with this year and the company’s board wanted to solve that.

In October, Apollo Global Management approached Cedar Fair’s board about buying in, Kinzel said.

“We were approached by Apollo to see if we would be interested in doing this transaction,” Kinzel said. “They approached us on this. We didn’t solicit this at all.

“They certainly like the company,” Kinzel said. “They like the parks that we have, they like that the parks that we have make money.”

He conceded he still had much to learn about Apollo Global Management, which owns Norwegian Cruise Lines.

“They may see some synergies in there that we don’t know about,” Kinzel said.

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