MUSKEGON — A $5 million upgrade planned for the off-season is the first of many capital improvements Michigan’s Adventure will see in the years ahead, as corporate owner Cedar Fair LP seeks to broaden the amusement park’s appeal and market.
Cedar Fair expects to make similar investments in Michigan’s Adventure in subsequent years beyond the 2002 season, said Brian Witherow, the corporation’s manager of investor relations.
“For the next several years, we’ll see that as we try to get the park up to what we see as the Cedar Fair standard,” Witherow said. “Long term, we see big things for the park. It’s definitely a park you could call an up-and-comer and this year is the first step in our long-term goals for the park.”
While Cedar Fair is committed to further upgrades in the future, the scope and level of subsequent investments will depend on how well annual capital improvements are received, Witherow said.
“We’ll work year to year and see how the market reacts this year and certainly build off of that,” he said.
The Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair bought Michigan’s Adventure on June 1 for $28.6 million from founder and operator Roger Jourden. The publicly held Cedar Fair owns and operates six amusements parks nationwide, including the popular flagship park, Cedar Point, along the shore of Lake Erie in Sandusky, as well as five water parks, hotels and several restaurants.
The acquisition generated some concerns locally that Cedar Fair wouldn’t improve the park, so as not to create competition for Cedar Point. The planned upgrades announced late last month put those concerns to rest, said Camille Jourden-Mark, the park’s vice president and general manager and daughter of Roger Jourden.
“They will definitely continue to grow and expand the park,” she said.
The $5 million in upgrades planned for the 2002 season at Michigan’s Adventure represents the largest capital program ever under taken at the amusement park in its 45-year history.
Michigan’s Adventure is one of West Michigan’s most popular attractions, drawing 400,000 to 425,000 visitors annually from May to September from a market that extends across the state, including as far east as Detroit, and into northern Indiana and Illinois.
Through annual capital improvements, Cedar Fair hopes to make the amusement park an even larger regional attraction and significantly grow its annual attendance. While 1 million visitors a year “is a bit too aggressive” of an attendance goal, a number well in excess of 400,000 is realistic, Witherow said.
“We’d like to see it do 600,000 or 700,000 people down the road,” he said.
Among the off-season improvements planned for Michigan’s Adventure are seven new rides — including a ride called RipCord Skycoaster that features tethered swinging free-falls from a 15-story tower. The park also will improve its infrastructure and amenities, including the addition of a catering facility and picnic shelter for more than 3,000 people, a live entertainment show and gift shop featuring Peanuts characters, new restrooms and additional signage and landscaping upgrades.
To accommodate the park’s growth in the years ahead, public infrastructure will need upgrading as well, said Todd Battle, executive director for the economic development group Muskegon Area First. The agency will do what it can to help the rural townships where the park is located secure state grants or loans to improve roads and sewer and water systems, Battle said.
Cedar Fair’s plan to elevate the stature of Michigan’s Adventure fits with Muskegon Area First’s strategy of supporting ventures that add to the area’s quality of life, as well as provide a boost to Muskegon’s tourism economy.
“When we can add to an attraction and quality amusement park, it only adds to everything else we’re doing,” Battle said. “They’ve got a proven track record in every community they’ve been in and they’ve put a positive impact on every community they’ve been in.”
Cedar Fair typically spends an average of about $50 million a year on capital improvements at all of its properties, Witherow said.
“Continued reinvestment in new rides and attractions and the upgrading of existing facilities is a significant element of our long-term growth strategy,” Cedar Fair President and CEO Richard Kinzel said. “Michigan’s Adventure is an excellent addition to the Cedar Fair family of parks, and these improvements emphasize our commitment to raise the park to a higher level of guest service and satisfaction.”
Cedar Fair parks collectively drew more than 11 million visitors in 2000, as the company generated revenues of $472.9 million and net income of $77.8 million.
The company in early August reported second quarter revenues of $123.6 million and net income of $6.6 million, with attendance through Labor Day running about 5 percent ahead of last year based on the acquisition of Michigan’s Adventure and an additional water park.