Sep 25, 2:49 PM EDT
Amusement park closing angers fans, excites developers
AURORA, Ohio (AP) -- Howard Gillooly chose his apartment because it was close enough to Geauga Lake that he could ride its roller coasters whenever he wanted.
He and other fans of the park were stunned when Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. announced that it was closing the 119-year-old park, leaving only a water park.
"It happened so fast," Gillooly said. "I really don't know what I'm going to do."
The decision to close one of Ohio's three biggest amusement parks has neighbors wondering what will happen to the land and roller coaster fans asking where the thrill rides will end up.
There are two parts of the park - Geauga Lake with its roller coasters and thrill rides, and Wildwater Kingdom with its water slides and pools.
Only the water rides will remain next year, opening up about 400 lakeside acres to developers who already are envisioning a housing development, a golf course community or a mix of shops and homes.
"It's a fantastic opportunity," said commercial real estate broker Kathy Fogg of Brecksville. "It's something that Ohio can now offer to businesses around the country."
Cedar Fair, which purchased Geauga Lake from Six Flags in 2004 for $145 million, announced it was selling the amusement park last week. It has hired a real estate company to evaluate and put a price tag on the property, which sits in a growing area about 20 miles southeast of Cleveland.
"Probably a lot of residential developers are salivating over the prospects," said Joseph Martanovic, a senior vice president at real estate company Colliers International.
Fans of the park aren't as enthusiastic.
"I was excited about being in the back yard of Geauga Lake," said Richard Munch, a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts who moved to the area about a year ago.
At a town meeting with Geauga Lake's manager, Munch said his children will be disappointed. "I think you're going to hear that a lot," Munch said.
Two of the Geauga Lake's roller coasters were already being relocated to other Cedar Fair parks and some of others will be going too.
But coaster enthusiasts are worried that Cedar Fair will scrap some of the rides, including the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1925.
Geauga Lake was a small regional park until Six Flags took it over and changed its name to Six Flags Ohio in 1999.
Four new roller coasters were built in 2000 and Six Flags bought neighboring Sea World a year later, combined the parks and changed the name to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure.
The investment didn't pay off and attendance fell.
Combining the parks and removing Sea World's star attraction, Shamu the killer whale, was a mistake, said David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors in Cleveland. "It made people come for one day instead of two days," he said.
Cedar Fair, which also owns Cedar Point in Sandusky and King's Island near Cincinnati along with nine other amusement parks in North America, removed all the animals from Geauga Lake and instead built a new water park.
"They made a big miscalculation by selling off the animals," Sangree said. "The reason people went there was as much for Sea World as it was for Geauga Lake."