Cedar Fair Plans California Theme Park Closure

June 27, 2022, 11:44 PM · Cedar Fair has sold the land underneath its California's Great America theme park and plans to close the park within the next 11 years, the company announced today.

Just three years after buying the land from the City of Santa Clara, Cedar Fair has sold the property to Prologis, Inc. - a "logistics and real estate" company - for approximately $310 million. The sale also included a lease agreement that allows Cedar Fair to continue to operate California's Great America for up to 11 years. Great America will cease park operations at the end of the lease term.

"We chose Prologis as our partner because of their deep ties in the Bay Area and their reputation for working closely with local communities on large developments," Cedar Fair President and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman said. "For our investors, the sale and lease agreements allow us to monetize a high-value asset in the heart of Silicon Valley at a very attractive multiple. The transaction also provides us with a substantial sum of incremental capital which we intend to use to further advance our strategic priorities and generate enhanced returns for our unitholders."

In Cedar Fair's press release, the company said that it intends to use the cash from the sale to "accelerate progress on its strategic priorities of reducing debt to achieve its $2 billion target, investing in high-return projects within its portfolio such as upgrading resort properties, and reinstating a sustainable unitholder distribution."

While the deal appears to be a good one financially for Cedar Fair, it also means the eventual loss of a park for fans in Bay Area and the loss of jobs for anyone who had made - or thought they had made - working at California's Great America a career.

Zimmerman announced the deal to California's Great America team members in a letter that can best be described a tone deaf.

California's Great America opened in March 1976 as one of two Marriott's Great America theme parks, along with what is now known as Six Flags Great America, near Chicago. The City of Santa Clara bought the park in 1985, turning over operations to Kings Entertainment Company, which was sold to Paramount Communications in 1992 and then renamed Paramount Parks in 1994. Cedar Fair gained control of California's Great America when it bought Paramount Parks in 2006.

While Cedar Fair officials promised to "roll out a full lineup of immersive entertainment, seasonal festivals and culinary events in 2022 as planned and for years to come," today's announcement makes clear that California's Great America is a lame duck, making it unlikely that Cedar Fair will invest in any major new rides at the park over the next decade.

Typically, no new rides means no new visitors for theme parks. And no long-term future might affect the park's ability to recruit employees and local sponsors as well.

What will not matter is whether the announced closure will affect the park's ability to inspire its next generation of fans - because there will be no next generation for California's Great America.

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Replies (16)

June 28, 2022 at 12:05 AM

Oh, boy, the Bay Area is about to get hundreds of new, empty, investor-owned luxury condos to clog AirBnB while never actually being rented or otherwise occupied. Yay.

June 28, 2022 at 2:48 AM

Or an expansion of the parking lot for the often half-filled (even pre-pandemic) Levi Stadium for 49ers football games.

There's no way this park stays open for another 11 years right? Maybe a couple more?

June 28, 2022 at 5:39 AM

Wow. That statement. Not even an acknowledgement that everyone will be canned in 11 years… it even tries to mask it somewhat by highlighting the previous leasehold arrangement as if that’s a reason they shouldn’t worry…

June 28, 2022 at 8:08 AM

This park was doomed from the start. Being located right next to the corporate headquarters of some of the most powerful companies in the world they have nowhere to expand, can't build big rides because of the noise, and the land has become so valuable you had to know at some point it would become worth more than the business itself. Such a shame because the other Great America became one of the best parks in the country (or at least would be if it didn't have Six Flags maintenance).

Side note: Before Dick Kinzel retired he actually said they were going to close this park, then Matt Ouimet came in and basically saved it, he spent a lot of money cleaning it up and adding new rides. Looks like Zimmerman came to a different conclusion from Ouimet.

June 28, 2022 at 9:04 AM

"up to eleven more years." There is NO way the park makes it eleven years. Labor and other costs associated with running a park in that area will prompt Cedar Fair to close it early. With the lease "up to eleven years," CF is giving itself time to plan out what rides can be dismantled and moved, what rides can be sold off for parts and wiggle room for the time period when it can still make money with the gates still open.

June 28, 2022 at 10:40 AM

Looks like time to plan a visit to Great America in Santa Clara, my first visit since the 1990s and my third visit overall.

When I was growing up, my family really enjoyed our visit there in the mid-1980s during a San Francisco Bay Area trip. My father said that the space shuttle IMAX movie, The Dream Is Alive, in their relatively new IMAX theater was his favorite thing on the whole trip.

June 28, 2022 at 11:22 AM

The fact that when folks say "Great America," it's always the one in Illinois that comes to mind says it all. I just never hear real buzz about this place even among coaster buffs and such. It seems a fun park (it's one of the few still with an old-fashioned gondola skyway around it) and you'd think a Bay Area park doing better but seems not as much attention. Still sucks for the fans and folks working there to have it yanked out under them like this.

June 28, 2022 at 12:09 PM

They should just send all the rides to Gurnee. Dueling Demons, anyone?

June 28, 2022 at 12:43 PM

They also run Gilroy Gardens, a small operation not far from Silicon Valley. Perhaps they could enhance that park or build another one near by. The land is much cheaper there.

June 28, 2022 at 1:04 PM

I took my kids there last year, for the first time, and while GA is far, far more family friendly than Six Flags--cleaner, more shade, friendlier staff, better food, all around better vibe--the rides are almost all old, with outdated restrains, less rider space than newer rides, and they really beat you up. We all came home with bruises and my knee hurt for a week, haha.

All of that said, expensive Northern California is already severely lacking in fun family things to do, so it will be shame to see it go, and as Robert says, even more a bummer to watch hateful, beyond-expensive, cookie cutter condos fill its space.

Oh well, everything in America sucks now, I should really be spending my time trying to figure out how to escape this place.

June 28, 2022 at 4:40 PM

Sad news, but this has been the writing on the wall for some time now with that place. Cedar Fair has tried to sell the park in the past, and they came pretty close to doing so during the pandemic closures in order to keep the chain afloat. I guess they've finally concluded that the reserves from cutting the park now outweigh what it will bring in for the foreseeable future, especially given that the chain has struggled to recover.

For anyone who wants to visit the park before it closes, I highly recommend making plans to do so in 2023 or 2024. While I doubt the place is in immediate danger, I don't foresee it lasting more than five or six more years, which means nonessential maintenance is likely to start getting cut and the quality of the place will probably deteriorate. It's not a park I'd suggest traveling for on its own, but is worth a day as part of a larger San Francisco trip, especially if you've got a Cedar Fair Platinum Pass.

June 28, 2022 at 6:38 PM

I grew up going here, my parents went here as kids and this just bums me out tremendously. It’s such an indictment of the Bay Area that a (as noted, so-so theme park) will make way for a hollow capital venture project for the rich.

I hate it.

June 28, 2022 at 6:55 PM

It’s always a shame to see a park close, but Great America’s been a “dead man walking” for a while now. As far as Cedar Fair’s timeline, I’ll paraphrase my favorite line from “Top Gun” (anyone remember when GA had a Top Gun-themed coaster?): “Bull**** eleven years - this thing’ll be over in two years!”

But not to worry, GA team members- the Cedar Fair board’s bonuses and stock options will be just fine. Maybe you can get a job selling hot dogs at the stadium or as a parking attendant or something.

June 29, 2022 at 12:15 AM

I’m sad and angry! This is considered my home park and will have many fond memories of actually being in the park when Beverly Hill Cops 3 was filmed. I remember trying to keep the Sky Hawk ride upside down as long as I can and getting on Stealth for the first time before they took it down and relocated it.

I was very happy when the news broke that Cedar Fair was taking over and saying “Finally, maybe we can get some good coasters in and tear down the Grizzly”! I thought they were on the right track with Rail Blazer and Gold Striker. I’m just mad that nobody never could figure out how to turn this park around. I do admit it was probably the weakest park of all the Cedar Fair chains, but this park had numerous challenges that I don’t blame Cedar Fair bailing out when the land they are on is considered prime real estate.

First of all, there was the height restriction due to the nearby San Jose airport. Second, the entire park got surrounded by high tech buildings and they have nowhere to expand. Third, the Niners stadium parking and game day issues. So if the park was trying to target teenagers, that was a lost cause due to height restriction, and prevented the park from ever developing a world class coaster. Second, all the building around it caused major headache for the park owners. I remember when Gold Striker opened and made the news. Anybody want to take a guess what that news was? It was all the high tech companies complaining the ride was too loud. Finally, from what I was told, the niners stadium made the situation worst, forcing the park to close down on game days so they can use the portion that belong to Great America for parking. That is a big hassle to deal with if you are just trying to keep the park profitable.

Due to their limited space and complaining next door neighbors, they were always going to have to lose something or get really creative and I’m not sure how much construction cost impacted their decision to tear down that IMAX theater or The Grizzly. Rather than get creative, they went the route of expanding the water park which I get. That at least hit the teens and children. But again, without a world class coaster, how much foot traffic are you really gaining. Again maybe due to costs, i didn’t understand how they couldn’t build a Maverick type of ride or something like Mantra at SD Sea World. It just seems the cost to get really creative was maybe too much for Cedar Fair.

Finally ( I know i may get some back lash for saying this), but this goes back to the “Adult Disney Fan”. I know plenty of Disney folks who live in the Bay Area who admitted to me they never once step foot at Great American, GilroyGarden, Knotts Berry Farm, Magic Mountain or Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. These regional parks need all the support they can get to stay afloat in these tough times. Rather than complain about how Disney keeps jacking up the price and sticking it to you, how about giving Disney a break and try one of these parks for once!

To the person who suggested the Gilory Garden theory: That is an interesting take. I know my son loves going there and that did one time crossed my mind that there is plenty of land to build out there, but I’m not sure if Bay Area folks will be willing to drive to Morgan Hill with that horrible 2 to 3 lane high way and it gets hot. It would be a really neat idea if somebody figured that out.

Finally, I don’t see this land being used for homes, I actually see it being used to build restaurants, movie theater, entertainment, condo, townhomes so fans have something to do before and after niners game. There is nothing for fans to do after the game and I know there has been many complaints that Levi stadium can’t hold concerts after a certain time and want to continue to host World Cup events and NCAA football games. There is really nothing there to offer folks who visit that stadium.

June 29, 2022 at 1:56 PM

very sad news but not unexpected...just hoping railblazer is not going to be the new zinger at WoF, that would suck for KC.

June 30, 2022 at 2:40 PM

Yep, a park quickly surrounded by commerical and business stuff is going to suffer with lack of expansion. The other Great America in Gurnee long benefited by being so far from Chicago to expand well over the decades but this was always going to be curtailed.

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