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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Cedar Fair must decide on headquarters site

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

SANDUSKY - Come September, Cedar Fair LP will have a big decision: whether to operate from Sandusky, as it has since 1870, or move to Charlotte, N.C.

In buying Paramount Parks Inc. last month for $1.24 billion, the Sandusky amusement park operator acquired a floor of leased space in a modern office park building in Charlotte that is Paramount's headquarters.

When the deal was announced, Cedar Fair Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Kinzel, a Toledo native, was asked about the Charlotte site's fate. He was evasive.

"The lease on that is up, I believe, in September of this year. We'll evaluate everything after that," he said.

Many don't believe Cedar Fair would ever leave Ohio. But if it did, its headquarters on Lake Erie's shores would have to relocate a staff of just over 20 people. A move would be a symbolic blow to the city on the shores of Lake Erie.

The company remains mum about the Charlotte lease.

"It's something we're still looking at," spokesman Stacy Frole said. The Paramount site is about five miles from one of its amusement parks, Carowinds.

"There's always the possibility that we could really work out of both offices," she said.

Some in the Sandusky area are wary. The local newspaper, the Register, recently urged city officials to quickly mend any fences that may have been broken previously with the firm.

But industry experts said they cannot see the company leaving while Mr. Kinzel remains. He was to retire next year, but recently hinted he may stay on.

"I don't see the corporate headquarters leaving Ohio, but I don't see the North Carolina office closing either," said Gary Slade, editor of Amusement Today magazine.

Mr. Slade spoke recently to Mr. Kinzel. "He kept using the trend term 'satellite office.' The idea is you don't disrupt those people in North Carolina, but it's not a corporation office either." With parks now on both coasts, Sandusky is closer to all 12 parks than is the East Coast office, Mr. Slade said.

"Frankly, there's no reason to move it to Charlotte. The CEO lives in Sandusky. He's not going to put his house up for sale," Mr. Slade added. "I would also

bet the board has asked him to stay on to see this [acquisition] through another four years."

Cedar Fair management exhibits "an Ohio-based culture" at all their parks, but Charlotte is truly a southern city, Paul Ruben, North American editor for Park World Magazine, said.

"I would be very surprised if they moved," he said.

Six Flags Inc., conversely, has moved many times - to Chicago, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, New Jersey, and New York - from its original Dallas roots, but that is because it changed management frequently, he said.

Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., in Cincinnati, predicted flatly that Cedar Fair won't move, and won't renew the Charlotte lease. Charlotte makes no sense, he said. "Carowinds will be one of their smallest parks and they are trying to consolidate now and save money."

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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