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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2004

Cedar Point, Geauga Lake learning how to be siblings

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

For decades, Cedar Point in Sandusky competed against Geauga Lake in Cleveland, and in the last nine years the rivalry was serious as the latter park operated under the Six Flags Inc. banner.

That changed when Cedar Fair LP, the Sandusky park's parent firm, paid $145 million in March for Six Flags of Ohio, which was a combination of Geauga Lake and Sea World of Ohio.

So how do the two parks keep from taking customers from each other?

"It's a brave new world for us," said John Hildebrandt, Cedar Point's longtime vice president of marketing.

Few amusement park companies have competing properties so close. In Branson, Mo., Silver Dollar City amusement park last year opened Celebration City a few miles away. Attendance at Silver Dollar City declined for the first time in years, amusement industry experts said.

Cedar Point and Geauga Lake will push hard for customers and will try to differentiate themselves.

"Cleveland is important to both parks and we have two great choices, Mr. Hildebrandt said. "I wouldn't say one park will advertise at the expense of the other. Each will have its own marketing parameters, but I don't think we'd hold back on anything."

The initial plan, he said, seems to be greater emphasis on billing Cedar Point as an overnight destination, with a multiple-day visit, and Geauga Lake as a park for day trips.

Both parks have strong selections of roller coasters (Cedar Point 16, Geauga Lake 10) and each has an extensive water park. However, Cedar Point, which opened last weekend, charges $44 a day admission and Geauga Lake, which opened a week earlier, charges $35.

Cedar Point, with its big coasters known worldwide, draws from a wider geographic area than Geauga Lake, Mr. Hildebrandt said.

Jan Guthridge, a former Cedar Point marketing executive and now head of marketing for Geauga Lake, said the park will try to entice visitors from the south and east, including from Pittsburgh.The competition between the parks this year is likely stiffer than later. Cedar Fair allows season pass holders entrance to all of its six parks nationwide, but that will not include Geauga Lake, at least this year.

Terrance Lind, an amusement industry marketing expert and owner of TL Creative Design in Bay Shore, N.Y., said permitting Cedar Fair season pass holders to go to Geauga Lake could help both parks. Such season ticket holders would view it as a bargain and perhaps would be more likely to buy food, drink, and souvenirs, he added.

"I thought buying Six Flags of Ohio was really a gutsy move on Cedar Fair's part," he said. "It's an interesting dilemma now and I'm really not sure how it will all pan out."

Cedar Fair has considered packaging the two parks, Mr. Hildebrandt said.

"For example, in Chicago we may go with an ad that says something like, 'Come to Ohio's Roller Coast. Drive 4 hours and have access to 26 roller coasters," he said.

The company will do research this summer to see what customers want from each park and then will consider changes, he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128



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