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SANDUSKY — Imagine being strapped to a seat that zips along at 67 mph, your feet dangling, a sensation of sitting on the wing of an airplane filling your mind.
Officials of Cedar Fair LP, parent firm of Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, believe the park's customers have been yearning for just such an experience, and they plan to spend $26 million on a new roller coaster to fulfill those thrill-seeking desires of flight.
During a news conference Monday afternoon at Cedar Point's main entrance that was attended by nearly 1,000 customers and roller-coaster enthusiasts, park officials announced plans to build the GateKeeper — a $26 million "winged" roller coaster scheduled to make its debut in May, 2013.
A "winged" coaster is one in which riders sit in cars that hang out over both sides of the coaster's track, allowing a rider's legs to dangle freely and thereby create the sensation of flying.
Designed by Swiss-based Bolliger & Mabillard Consulting Engineers, the ride will have a 170-foot-tall lift hill and a track that extends 4,164 feet, making it the second-longest of any roller coaster at Cedar Point, behind the Millenium Force. It will have three trains with seats for 32 riders each. The ride will last approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds while hitting speeds up to 67 mph.
The coaster will be located near Cedar Point's front entrance, with one section of the ride arching through the "keyhole" of two towers that will be built directly over the admission gate — hence the name GateKeeper — to provide customers entering the park with an immediate and breathtaking visual shot of adrenalin that is expected to generate anticipation and excitement.
"The name GateKeeper is a really kind of a double entendre," said Monty Jasper, vice president of safety and engineering for Sandusky-based Cedar Fair, which in addition to Cedar Point owns 10 other amusement parks and seven water parks.
"It's kind of a medieval thing that allows us to do some theme-ing, but it's also physically above the front gate," Mr. Jasper said.
John Hildebrandt, Cedar Point general manager, said the sight of a roller coaster with 32 screaming riders whizzing by overhead will provide customers passing through the main gate with a visual impact similar to an airplane flyover — "only we'll have over 500 flyovers per day."
In terms of style, the GateKeeper will be similar to the park's popular Raptor roller coaster, but different enough that it will add another dimension to Cedar Point's lineup of 16 roller coasters, Mr. Hilde- brandt said. It will be the first winged coaster at any of Cedar Fair's parks.
"What we did with Raptor is take a new genre of roller coaster, which was the inverted coaster, and we made it the biggest and the best. What we're doing here with GateKeeper is we're taking another new genre of roller coaster, the winged coaster, and we're super-sizing it, maximizing it, trying to give it the Cedar Point stamp," he said. The ride will be the longest winged coaster in existence, he added.
Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., of Cincinnati, said Cedar Point appears to have come up with another winning coaster.
"It's going to be a great ride. That concept, the X-wing coaster, is probably the hottest coaster in the industry right now. This is just the third in the U.S.," Mr. Speigel said. "But also, it's just such a great design and great placement. I think it's going to be one of the premier showcased roller coasters in the industry because you're certainly going to see it when you come through that front gate.
"They get five stars on this one for the ride, idea, location, and planning," he added.
Cedar Point, which has been named the country's best amusement park for 14 years running by Amusement Today, an industry newsletter, has been planning the GateKeeper for nearly two years, Mr. Jasper said. Cedar Fair looked at a winged roller coaster a few years ago but didn't think much of the earlier offerings, he added.
"We think the idea has sort of been perfected enough for us to have [a winged coaster]," said Mr. Jasper, who rode a winged coaster at Six Flags Great America near Chicago. The other winged coaster is at Dollywood park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
After deciding to buy a Bolliger & Mabillard coaster, the company had to figure out where to put it.
Last year, Cedar Fair spent $27 million at its Canada's Wonderland park in Toronto to build the Leviathan roller coaster, a 306-foot high, 92-mph steel roller coaster.
The Leviathan was placed at the entrance of Canada's Wonderland, and Cedar Fair officials noted that the sight of the roller coaster surging past customers as they entered the park was greeted with great enthusiasm.
"Leviathan impressed us so much that it probably won the day for this particular layout," Mr. Jasper said. " … This makes a statement in so many different ways. You're going to be walking right under the coaster coming in and that makes a big punctuation mark."
The new ride will start to the east of the front entrance on the site where Cedar Point recently began removing its Disaster Transport roller coaster and Space Spiral tower ride.
The Disaster Transport, a bobsled-style coaster that the park closed July 29 after 28 years, will be cleared within two weeks, park officials said. The Space Spiral will be torn down in September and a foundation for the GateKeeper laid in October.
Steel for the new coaster will be erected in November and the ride is expected to be completed by March so that test trials can begin.
The GateKeeper will be the first roller coaster to be built at Cedar Point since the 105-foot-high Maverick debuted in 2007. At $26 million, GateKeeper will exceed the $25 million Millennium Force roller coaster, built in 2000, as the most expensive ride in the park.
The park is expected to spend another $2 million to redo the front entrance to accommodate the ride and make adjustments to the parking lot to accommodate the coaster's layout.
No decision has been made on the admission height for the ride, but park officials said they intend the coaster to be "family-friendly."
Contact Jon Chavez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6128.