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Published: Saturday, 11/10/2001

Cedar Fair parks fall short of attendance goals


SANDUSKY - The numbers are in, and for the second year in a row, management at Cedar Fair LP can only shrug and wonder what might have been when it comes to attendance at its six amusement parks, including its premier venue, Cedar Point.

In a conference call with analysts yesterday to discuss the limited partnership's third-quarter earnings, Cedar Fair president and CEO Richard Kinzel conceded that once again attendance was ``below expectations.''

Factoring out Michigan's Adventure near Muskegon and Oasis Water Park in Palm Springs, Calif., two parks Cedar Fair bought last spring, attendance at the company's properties declined by about 2 percent this year, Mr. Kinzel said.

Further, attendance at Cedar Point, the Lake Erie crown jewel, was down a whopping 9 percent to 3.1 million, following two down years. The slump especially hurts because the company has yet to reap big attendance rewards for its 310-foot Millennium Force roller coaster, a $25-million ride opened in 2000. The park also hoped to boost revenue for the company with its added hotel space, now totaling 1,400 rooms, which was to translate into longer stays and higher spending.

Companywide, its amusement and water parks attracted 11.7 million visitors in 2000, about the same as the year before. It expected higher attendance this year, which it got at its Dorney Park, near Allentown, Pa., which had its best year ever with 1.5 million patrons.

Mr. Kinzel blamed the dropoff on the soft economy and bad weather across the Midwest. Given two years in a row where attendance expectations went unmet, the company is cautiously optimistic about 2002 and will limit capital expenditures to $45 million total at its six amusement parks, he said.

Cedar Fair hopes for higher revenue next year from more sales promotions promised by Mr. Kinzel or higher ticket prices, said Brian Witherow, head of investor relations. Higher admission fees will be tied to the capital expenditures, he added.

Attendance at Cedar Point was expected to fall a bit, given that it had no major new attraction this year, Mr. Witherow said. But, he said, the Sandusky park has not gone two years without a new attraction.

``We'll see what happens in the next month or two,'' he said.

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