Want a thrill? See who's not in our pocket

Sunday, September 6, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This is what I think is most thrilling about the new thrill rides at Paramount's Kings Island: They do not belong to me.

I do not have to build them. I do not have to maintain them. I do not even have to ride them.

Park officials have just announced plans to spend $35 million to dust off the place and build two new rides. They said they think that this investment will help them make money and remain competitive. I like the sound of that, don't you?

No threats to pull the plug on Fred and Wilma, the Beast and the Waterpark. No ballot item asking for a handout.

Dark hints

"We have to remain abreast of what the competition is doing and continue to try and improve our park so we can remain the most popular and best known for world-class thrills," a spokeswoman said at a press conference on Thursday.

What? Haven't you heard of poor-mouthing? You could have pointed out that you just can't stay competitive in this size market without taxpayer subsidies. You could have pointed out that you brought approximately 3.3 million visitors into your gates.

You might have mentioned your $1.35 million in property taxes last year, helping to make Kings Local Schools the envy of poorer districts all over the state.

Heck, if you really wanted to play hardball (so to speak), you could have mentioned all the summer jobs you provide to area college students. You might have pointed to the number of hotels that have located nearby. You might have talked about ATP Tennis and the equestrian jumping, both world-class events.

Don't you people know that you could have stuck your hand in the public's pocket?

"It's a rare thing to spend this type of capital for two rides in one season," the park's general manager Tim Fisher said. "But it's all a part of our plan to continue to draw in people from outside the area and continue to be a regional leader in the industry."

Life, liberty, funnel cakes

He said he's going to add $2 to the price of Kings Island's already pricey admission. This year, an adult had to pay $32.95, and kids and people 60 and over paid $18.95.

I don't care.

That's a lot of money for an average family to spend for a day's entertainment, but nobody guaranteed us life, liberty and the pursuit of funnel cakes. If that's what they need to charge to make money, that's their business.

And if nobody is willing to pay that price, presumably they will have to lower it.

This is not my concern.

In fact, I really don't have time to worry about their affairs. I have to try to figure out whether our new ballpark for the Cincinnati Reds should be on the riverfront. Or not on the riverfront. In a new facility or a gussied-up middle-aged one.

I have to take an interest in where Bengals fans will park their cars at the new sports palace. Will my money be used for a parking lot at $2,500 per space? Or a parking garage at $8,500? In other words, will the county spend $12.5 million to fulfill its obligation to provide 5,000 spaces for football fans? Or $42.5 million?

Thrilling? You should feel how my stomach dips every time I get the latest upwardly mobile estimate for the new stadiums and practice fields and parking and road work and interest, now an obscene $1.5 billion.

Kings Island's plans include a pair of new rides at $10 million each, plus some other less-jazzy improvements. Maybe the whole thing will cost more than park officials think.

Maybe they will exceed their $35 million estimate by millions of dollars. But I don't really care. Because it's not my money.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393, email laurapulfer@enquirer.com or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition. Her newly-released book, I Beg to Differ, is available from Orange Frazer Press (800) 852-9332.