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Kinzel reflects on wild ride Cedar Fair CEO ready to exit after 39 years


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I find his candid nature refreshing.

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.

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?"

"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.

... Imagine how different things might be, for better or worse.

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Large conglomerates are virtually always open to sales, for the right price...or acquisitions, especially when red stones are involved (Go Big or Go Home).

Terpy, known for choosing his words carefully, and who would like to think his memory is neither as selective nor as self aggrandizing as some.

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I would actually like to hear some of his views on what went wrong in the Geauga Lake acquisition. I don't believe for a second that they bought it just so they could close it like some think; empty parking lots and ride seats 2005-2007 tell that story, but it would be interesting to hear from a CEO perspective what he thinks went wrong.

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One of my wisest professors always said "watch what they do, it's far, far more important than what they say. "

What did they DO at Geauga Lake?

This is indeed the same Mr. Kinzel that told the Paramount execs the acquisition was a merger and that together the executive team would run the company. I can assure you that for a myriad of reasons, today's Six Flags is very glad that wasn't true.

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are you saying you think they did buy it to close it?

I do think that they tried to scale it down to be successful, but not so much as to dent the Cedar Point draw. And once it appeared to be sinking figured that if we can't make it work on our terms... no one is.

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I am saying that Mr. Kinzel and his then hand picked board were considered experts in the industry, can be assumed to have done due diligence before any acquisition, and to have had a plan such that the acquisition was worth at least as much to Cedar Fair as they were

paying, taking into account risks and opportunity.

I am not willing to assume they wildly miscalculated Geauga Lake's prospects. Put another way, I assume they knew exactly what they were doing, what they wanted to accomplish and how they were going to do it.

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I didn't say what you imply I did.

I did say, and still say, they had a plan for Geauga Lake that would profit Cedar Fair under any forseeable circumstance, and they intended to pursue that plan, and did. I'd also not assume the park operated at a loss all four years.

The more interesting question, by far, is that come January, with a newly empowered CEO and a new, fresh perspective, what will become of Geauga Lake...uh...Wildwater Kingdom? I'd look for change, and soon.

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I am sure it will be a wild ride, a different ride, full of twists and turns, and that some will be ecstatic, some disappointed, and some blasé.

There will be those who rue the day that Dick Kinzel left, others who will see it as a turning point for the company, and yet others who will ask "Dick who?"

And will the Kinzels continue to live in the Cedar Point parking lot? Will son Bart continue to be the GM of a Cedar Fair park? And how long will it be, if ever, before Messrs Reid-Anderson and Weber come calling? With or without a bursar?

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Ah, Terp... sometimes I'm not as good reading between the lines. Essentially we're traveling down two different paths to arrive at the same conclusion. Got it. I agree. I makes sense that if their experiment goes off that they would have 2-3 years of "new" attractions to disperse to the sibling parks. A $140 million purchase for the park only to see it closed is one heck of a gaffe. From where I sit, I'm not sure how a park in the middle of Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown- with Pittsburgh and Columbus not too far off- how they couldn't make it work. Granted, it is off by itself with terrible access points, but then again- Cedar Point isn't exactly right off the interstate either. I do wonder why they did not give any "official" advance notice that it was closing. It would seem that they would be able to get a good "last" payday from the park with a farewell month (or even week for that matter).

However, I do think that the assumption that GL operated at a loss 2004-2007 is correct though.

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