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Published: Wednesday, 8/3/2005

Decline in visitors worries Cedar Point's parent firm

This summer's attendance pattern has been like a roller-coaster ride, park officials say. This summer's attendance pattern has been like a roller-coaster ride, park officials say.

SANDUSKY - Attendance has dipped 4 percent at Cedar Point amusement park so far in 2005 despite good weather, and executives say the struggling economies of Ohio and Michigan are partly to blame.

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts yesterday, Richard Kinzel, chief executive officer of parent Cedar Fair LP, acknowledged that executives are troubled by the drop in visitors through July 31.

"We're very disappointed in attendance and we're looking at reasons for it," Mr. Kinzel said during the call.

The call was held one day after the publicly traded partnership announced that second-quarter profits fell 17 percent to $12.3 million, or 22 cents a share, on increased sales of $149 million.

A 3 percent sales gain was attributed to strong business at Cedar Fair's water parks in a summer that has been dry and hot as well as to increased purchases of food and other items by visitors to Cedar Point and other company-owned amusement parks.

Surveys taken in the spring suggest that high gas prices aren't a factor in the attendance drop, the CEO said.

He noted, however, that unemployment exceeds the national average in both Ohio and Michigan, which are key markets. In Detroit, the largest source of customers, there are "fears of further layoffs in the auto industry," Mr. Kinzel added.

In response, managers have boosted discounts and other marketing targeted at people in those areas, he said.

What's more, attendance patterns have been akin to a roller coaster ride, the CEO conceded.

"The momentum doesn't seem like it's there as in past years," he added. "This past weekend was real good. It slowed down [Monday]. We have one good week, then it falls off the next week."

The park has resolved one problem area: a labor dispute that prompted a Cleveland-area union group to call a boycott of Cedar Point and its parent company's Geauga Lake amusement park in Aurora, Ohio.

The dispute, with the Tri-County Building & Construction Trades Council of Akron, was resolved Monday after company executives agreed to give greater consideration to unionized contractors on future construction projects.

The dispute arose after non-union contractors were used on a water park project at Geauga Lake. The boycott resulted in the loss of 30,000 to 40,000 customers at Cedar Point and Geauga Lake combined, Mr. Kinzel estimated during the conference call.

Overall attendance at Cedar Fair's dozen parks - including Knott's Berry Farm in California -was down 2 percent, or by 110,000 visitors, through July 31, officials said.

However, traffic picked up in July, when combined attendance rose 2 percent.

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