Sunday, January 16, 2000

Kings Island No. 1 park in Ohio


Status despite 1999 drop in attendance

BY KEVIN ALDRIDGE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Paramount's Kings Island ended the 1990s as Ohio's most popular amusement park, despite losing attendance during 1999.

        The park attracted 3.32 million visitors last year, according to newly published figures from the trade publication Amusement Business. That's 2 percent fewer than the 3.4 million people who visited in 1998, according to the Nashville, Tenn.-based publication.

        Among North America's 50 most-visited theme parks, Kings Island ranked 14th. Cedar Point in Sandusky ranked 15th.

        Kings Island officials said two new attractions helped pull in visitors, most of whom paid the $34.99 daily admission price. But attendance was hurt by sweltering heat in July and soggy conditions last fall, officials said.

        “Despite attendance being off a bit, we were very pleased with our performance last season,” park spokesman David Mandt said.

        The rides added last year were Face-Off, an inverted roller coaster that seats riders face-to-face, and Drop Zone, where riders drop 315 feet from the top of a tower. The rides were part of a $40 million investment — $5 million more than it cost to build Kings Island in 1972.

        While overall attendance slumped, visits were up by 7 percent among guests age 12 to 24, Mr. Mandt said. He said sales of season passes also were strong, and the park hosted a record number of company outings.

        Kings Island has served as an economic catalyst for southern Warren County. The 712-acre park fuels a $268 million-a-year tourism industry in Warren County and spurs rapid development and residential growth along Interstate 71.

        The park's property taxes — about $1 million in 1999 — provide a huge boost to the Kings Local School District. And the local economy gets a lift from the payroll of about 175 full-time and 5,000 seasonal employees.

        Attendance at the 50 most popular parks grew 3 percent, to 170.5 million, in 1999. That's 5.2 million more visits than during 1998 and breaks the old record of 167.3 million in 1997.

        Nationally, several ride accidents, including two fatal ones, didn't hurt attendance, even at the California and Virginia parks where they occurred, officials reported.

        Cedar Point, which tied with Kings Island in attendance in 1998, saw its visitors drop by 3 percent last year. Ohio's second-busiest amusement park drew about 3.3 million guests last year and tied for 15th nationally with Morey's Piers in Wildwood, N.J.

        Both Ohio parks are expecting greater turnouts in 2000 as each enters the new year with a new roller coaster.

        Thrill seekers are salivating as they await the April 15 opening of Son of Beast, Kings Island's 13th roller coaster. Son of Beast will be the world's tallest, fastest and only looping wooden roller coaster.

        The new coaster is expected to rival its predecessor, The Beast, which is the

        world's longest wooden roller coaster at 7,400 feet. The Beast recently was ranked by enthusiasts as the nation's No. 1 classic wooden coaster.

        At an estimated $15 million, Son of Beast is the single largest investment in Kings Island's history.

        “We really believe that Son of Beast will do for Kings Island and the region what The Beast did 20 years ago,” Mr. Mandt said.

        Cedar Point, which added no new attractions in 1999, will open the Millennium Force roller coaster this year as part of a $48 million investment project. Millennium Force, Cedar Point's 14th roller coaster, will break 10 world records and will be the world's tallest and fastest steel roller coaster.

        Bill Linkenheimer, president of American Coaster Enthusiasts, a group that crisscrosses the country sampling roller coasters, said he plans to be here when Son of Beast opens.

        “It's all everybody's been talking about for the past few months,” Mr. Linkenheimer said. “It's got all the enthusiasts buzzing.”

        The Nashville, Tenn.-based trade publication Amusement Business contributed to this report. Amusement Business is a news weekly that tracks the international live entertainment and amusement industry.

Top 50 North American amusement parks



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