Friday, April 05, 2002

Kings Island still a thrill in 30th year

Mix of new and traditional rides influences parks

By Earnest Winston,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Turning 30 is a milestone for Paramount's Kings Island, but even more significant is the Warren County attraction's local economic impact and its influence on the rest of the amusement park industry.

        The park, which opened in 1972 in then mostly rural southern Warren County, begins its 30th season today. It will be open weekends through May 19, then will open daily May 24.

    • Opened: May 27, 1972.
    • Changed owners: In fall 1992, Paramount Studios bought the park from American Financial. The 1993 season was the first full season under the name Paramount's Kings Island.
    • Annual attendance: More than 3 million.
    • Number of roller coasters: 12.
    • Number of employees: 4,000 seasonal; 225-250 full time.
    • What: Paramount's Kings Island 30th anniversary season.
    • Where: 6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason.
    • When: Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. In April, the park will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. Open daily beginning May 24.
    • How much: $41.99 for ages 7-59, $24.99 for ages 3-6 and under 48 inches tall. Ages 2 and younger are free; $24.99 for seniors 60 and older, $25.99 for all ages after 5 p.m. Before May 19, an individual season pass costs $84.99, and a family-of-four season pass costs $289.99. These prices increase to $89.99 and $299.99 after May 19.
    • Parking: $8 to $10.
    • New this year: Tomb Raider: The Ride, Dora the Explorer and Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
        The park's approach of throwback attractions along with modern thrill rides has been copied, industry experts say.

        “Kings Island went out there and was bold enough to say, "Well, people still like wooden roller coasters, we're going to put one in. People still like midway games, we're going to put some of those in,”' says Jim Futrell, historian for the Chicago-based National Amusement Park Historical Association.

        “Then all of a sudden, all the other theme park chains thought, "Maybe we're being a little too snooty here.' I think one of the main contributions of Kings Island is that it really kind of changed how the industry viewed traditional amusement park attractions in a theme park environment.”

        The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions does not keep track of the average life span of amusement parks, but most industry experts agree that 30 years is relatively young. Of the estimated 450 amusement and theme parks in the country, Connecticut's Lake Compounce Amusement Park is the nation's oldest at 156 years.

        Quite a few parks were built in the late 1960s and 1970s, and almost all are still around, says Tim O'Brien, a senior editor with the amusement-industry trade publication Amusement Business.

        “I think the significance of KI is that it was built in a virtual shadow of Cedar Point, a formidable competitor up north, and has been able to pretty much match CP with attendance on a year-to-year basis. Ohio is so lucky and, outside Florida and California, has the most major parks and the most roller coasters of any state. And they all seem to prosper,” Mr. O'Brien says.

        In 2001, Kings Island employed 4,000 seasonal workers and had an estimated $210 million economic impact on Greater Cincinnati. An estimated 3.36 million visitors passed through PKI's turnstiles last year.

        Kings Island officials expect the 2002 season to be even more prosperous. Industry insiders say “Tomb Raider: The Ride” could boost the park's attendance, which was up 4 percent from 2000, by 7-10 percent. The new thrill ride is being called the most ambitious in the park's 30-year history.

        Mr. O'Brien says Tomb Raider is a well-known product that will surely attract great interest, but doubts it has the marketing power that a new roller coaster would have.

        “The industry is watching, that's for sure, because any park can only have so many coasters, and there is a need for these types of special attractions. If this goes over well, we'll see more highly themed, noncoaster rides show up at regional parks across the country,” Mr. O'Brien says.

        But no matter the impact of Tomb Raider on PKI's bottom line — and the industry in general — Kings Island, like other amusement parks, needs to do more than build a major ride every year.

        “It's really being able to listen to what your guests are saying and adapt accordingly,” says Susan Storey, spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “It's not always putting in a new ride to remain competitive as much as it is finding out what the trends are in the market place and what people want to see.”

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