Coney Island, situated on the banks of the Ohio River in Anderson Township, near Cincinnati was considered one of the finest amusement parks in its day. However, the former apple orchard had a couple of main problems in the 1960s. Coney lacked room to expand in part due to the land that they needed for a big enough parking lot for the crowds the park attracted. The other nemesis was flooding. The park was consistently flooded by the Ohio River. In 1964 the Ohio River crested 14.2 feet above flood stage. Coney was under water and assistant general manager Gary Wachs found himself exiting his second story office via a canoe.
Then, competition entered Coney`s backyard in 1968 when “Davy Crockett” actor Fess Parker announced plans to build a frontier theme park. The park, to be called Frontier Worlds was to be built in Northern Kentucky at the intersections of Interstates 71 and 75. Coney Board chairman made repeated attempts to contact Parker about plans for his new park. However, his attempts failed. As a result, Coney Island was bought out by Taft Broadcasting, which had significant financial backing, for $6.5 million. This backing was necessary to move Coney away from the Ohio and to an area with more land so that Coney could compete with the new park in Kentucky. Few people realized at the time that Coney was purchased that the new owners planned to move Coney to a new location.
Taft Broadcasting traces its roots back to April 25, 1840 when the first edition of Cincinnati`s first daily newspaper The Spirit of the Times was issued. This paper was the forerunner of Charles P Taft`s Cincinnait Times-Star whose twentieth century offspring, Radio Cincinnati, Inc, eventually grew into Taft Broadcasting.
Taft Broadcastings immediate birth was on August 17, 1939 when the Times Star headed by Hulbert Taft, Sr. (1877-1959) purchased CBS affiliated WKRC Radio with studios in the Alms Hotel on East Fifth street. After CBS changed its affiliation, WKRC struggled and the newspaper covered its losses. Ruth Lyons was program director before starting her own radio program. And Waite Hoyt announced Reds games. A separate company, Radio Cincinnati was formed in 1948 with Hulbert Taft, Jr. (1906-1967) the following year the company bought land in Mt. Auburn and built a television studio. On September 25, 1949, Cincinnati got its first live network telecast, a football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. During the 1950`s Radio Cincinnati purchased other radio and television stations. In 1954, WKRC boosted its signal to 316,000 watts, the federal limit. WKRC was now underwriting the losses of the Times-Star. The newspaper was sold to the Cincinnati Post in 1959 and on July 2, the Taft Broadcasting Company was incorporated. In 1966, Taft acquired Hanna Barbera, the world`s largest animator for television.
The developers followed advice from Roy Disney when they bought land for the new park. He told them to figure out how much land you need and then buy five times as much. They purchased 1,600 acres of land in Warren County along both sides of I-71. They bought land for $3.2 million, or approximately $2,000 per acre, from realtor George Henkle and individual farmers. However, today the park still owns 773 of those original acres, with the park currently sitting on about 365 of those acres.
Ground was broken on June 15, 1970. In November of that same year, Kings Island was announced as the name of the new park. Management had held a contest to name the new park and thousands of Cincinnatians took part in the contest. Some other proposed names of the park were Twin Oaks, and Kings Mills Park. Kings Island was chosen because it related the name of the park to its new location in Kings Mills, and it also paid homage to Coney Island. In 1971, Parker abandoned his idea to build a park in Kentucky because of the developing Kings Island.
The final season for Coney was in 1971, and the park attracted a record 2.75-million visitors that season. Coney Island would close on Labor Day weekend of that year. The Delta Queen pulled away playing “Good Bye, My Coney Island Baby” on its calliope. During the winter of 1971-1972, many of Coney`s rides were moved to Kings Island, including: The Sky Ride, Tumblebug, Rotor, Scrambler, Monster, Eagles, the log flume and various kids rides from the Land of Oz.
On April 29, 1972, $29.5 million and 30 months after the initial planning began, Kings Island opened for a series of preview weekends on a rainy Saturday. The park officially opened on May 27, 1972. complete with balloons, parades and air force jets.
Kings Island did not use the traditional ride tickets system, but instead adopted a pay-one-price admission. The original ticket price to enter the park and experience all the attractions for free was $6, which was considered by some to be outrageous!
Based on the success of Kings Island, Taft executives set out to duplicate the success in Richmond, Virginia. Kings Dominion opened in 1975. In addition to Kings Dominion, Taft entered into a partnership with Top Value Enterprises, a subsidiary of the Kroger Co. in early 1975 to form Family Leisure Centers, Inc. This partnership purchased Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina for $16 million from founder E. Pat Hall. In 1980, the partnership dissolved and Taft became the sole owner of Carowinds. Additionally, Taft built Wonderland outside of Toronto, Canada in 1981. Taft built the park with the help of two developers- JDS Investments, Ltd, and Bramalea Ltd, with Taft owning a 20% share of the park.
In late 1983, a group of general managers at the Taft parks as well as several vice presidents at Taft Broadcasting led by Nelson Schwab III, purchased the parks for $167.5 million. Jack Rouse, a full timer who was involved with live entertainment at the parks was one of the ten investors involved in the buyout. They then formed their own company to manage and own the parks, the Kings Entertainment Company (KECO). When KECO purchased the parks from Taft, they also bought a licensing contract for Hanna Barbera for the next 25 years, which is scheduled to end in 2009. KECO was comprised of Kings Island, Kings Dominion, Carowinds, and the 20% stake in Canada`s Wonderland.
Taft/KECO opened the Hanna Barbera Land park in Houston Texas in 1984. The park was a failure, due to its limited demographic and insufficient budget. The kiddie coaster that was located there (Scooby Doo) was relocated to Great America, where it stands as Runaway Reptar today. The park was closed after the 1986 season, and today is a water park known as Splashtown, which is owned by Six Flags. In 1985, KECO opened Australia`s Wonderland in Sydney, Australia.
In 1985 the Marriott Corporation, owners of the Great America parks in Santa Clara, California, and outside of Chicago was selling the parks. They sold the Illinois park to Six Flags. The California park was sold to the City of Santa Clara Redevelopment Agency. The city then entered into a management contract with KECO for five years with an option for KECO to purchase the park at the end of the contract. In 1989, KECO exercised its option to buy Great America`s business assets (buildings, rides and equipment) from the City of Santa Clara. Also, KECO then entered into a 50 year land-lease with the city`s redevelopment agency.
Meanwhile, in 1987, KECO was reorganized as Carl Lindner purchased the majority of the shares of Taft Broadcasting and he also purchased KECO for $150 million. Taft Broadcasting became Great American Broadcasting (195-196). Carl Lindner continued to let KECO operate the parks. Carl Linder announced that he would cancel KECO`s 10 year management deal with Kings Island after five seasons and would manage the park on its own after the 1992 season. However, on July 31, 1992 Paramount Communications purchased KECO for $400 million, which by this time was comprised of four parks, and a 20% ownership of Canada`s Wonderland. Australia`s Wonderland was not included in the sale, and was later sold to a group of Australian investors (the park closed in April of 2004). In 1993, all four of the KECO parks were rebranded as Paramount Parks, and now sported the Paramount moniker in front of their names. In 1993, Paramount Parks purchased the remaining 80% stake in Canada`s Wonderland for $55.1 million (Canadian) and Wonderland received the Paramount moniker in 1994. The number of Paramount Parks now totaled five.
In 1994 Viacom International purchased Paramount Communications in a $10 billion deal. In turn, Paramount Parks became part of Viacom. This new connection allowed the use of Nickelodeon properties in the parks. Because of the ending Hanna Barbera license at the parks, Carowinds removed all the Hanna Barbera theming and replaced it with Nickelodeon theming in 2005 (with the exception of the Scooby Doo ride, which the park bought rights for Scooby for the ride from Sally Dark Rides when they purchased the ride). Kings Island is removing all traces of Hanna Barbera in 2006 (with the exception of Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle) with the premier of Nickelodeon Universe, the largest collection of Nickelodeon based rides on the planet. It is rumored that the other Paramount Parks will have removed all traces of Hanna Barbera except for their Scooby rides by 2008.
In 2005, Viacom announced that they were splitting their assets into two separate companies. The two companies would be known as CBS Corporation, while the other company would retain the Viacom name. The CBS Corporation included Paramount Parks and the following divisions: CBS and UPN broadcast networks, Viacom Television Stations Group, Infinity Broadcasting, Viacom Outdoor, the CBS, Paramount and King World television production and syndication operations, as well as Showtime, and Simon & Schuster. Meanwhile the Viacom company includes: TV Networks (including MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Comedy Central, CMT: Country Music Television, Spike TV, TV Land and many other networks around the world), BET, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment and Famous Music. Shortly after the split, CBS announced that they were actively seeking a buyer for Paramount Parks and were discussing the transaction with several parties.
By this time Paramount Parks has extended their reach. They now owned and operate Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Las Vegas Hilton. Additionally, they were now in a management contract with the not-for-profit Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy, California and CBS Television City at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas, Nev.). Paramount Parks was in a brief management contract with Terra Mitica amusement park in Spain, however it expired in 2004. In 2005, Paramount Parks was headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. They owned all five Paramount Parks: Paramount`s Great America, Paramount`s Carowinds, Paramount`s Kings Dominion, Paramount Canada`s Wonderland and Paramount`s Kings Island.
On May 22, 2006 Cedar Fair, L.P. announced that they would buy all five Paramount Parks from CBS Corporation for $1.24 billion in cash. The deal also includes the Bonfante Gardens management deal as well as Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas. The deal also includes a licensing agreement for the Nickelodeon properties for four years and the Paramount licensing for ten years. Cedar Fair decided to drop the Paramount name from all of the newly acquired parks for the 2007 season.
Cedar Fair, L. P. is a publicly traded, limited partnership. It first went public on April 29, 1987 and trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “FUN.” In 1978, Cedar Point bought Valleyfair in Shakopee, MN. In 1983, Cedar Fair, L.P. is formed replacing the old company, Cedar Point, Inc. The next park the partnership purchased was Dorney Park in Allentown, PA on July 22, 1992 for an estimated $48 million. In 1995, they purchased Worlds of Fun, in Kansas City, MO. In 1996, Cedar Fair purchased a 99% share of the Radisson Harbour Inn for $2,300,000. This would later be turned into the Castaway Bay Water Park Resort in 2004. In 1997, Cedar Fair bought Knott`s Berry Farm in Lake Buena Vista, CA. This purchase allowed them to use the rights for The Peanuts characters. Cedar Fair then bought Michigan`s Adventure in Muskegon, MI on May 7, 2001. In 2004, Cedar Fair bought Geauga Lake outside of Cleveland, OH from Six Flags.
Before the purchase of Paramount Parks, Cedar Fair owned seven amusement parks and several water parks. Attendance at its properties in 2005 was approximately 12.7 million with revenues of $569 million. Paramount Parks had attendance of approximately 12.2 million with revenues of $423 million. In 2005, Kings Island had $108 million in revenue. The current CEO of Cedar Fair is Dick Kinzel, who has been at the helm of the company as CEO and President since 1986. He will stay on board with the company through 2010, at which point he is scheduled to retire. Shortly after the purchase of the Paramount Parks, Cedar Fair, L.P. decided to rename the name of the company to Cedar Fair Entertainment Company (although its legal name remains Cedar Fair, L.P). Today, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company owns twelve amusement parks, five water parks, as well as manages Bonfante Gardens and Star Trek: The Experience.