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Shareholder advisory firms split on Cedar Fair ballot issues

SANDUSKY — Three of four independent proxy advisory firms have sided with Cedar Fair LP on keeping its debt payment a priority but three of the four also have backed the amusement park firm's biggest shareholder on the issue of splitting its chief executive and chairman positions.

The two issues will be put to a shareholders vote Tuesday, and both sides are vigorously courting votes. Q Investments, a hedge fund firm in Dallas which owns 18 percent of Cedar Fair's shares, has proposed the two issues.

Proxy Governance, Egan-Jones, and Glass Lewis recommended that shareholders vote against a proposal that would require the company to make paying dividends a higher priority than paying down its $1.6 billion in debt. Another proxy advisory firm, Institutional Shareholder Services, sided with Q Investments, favoring the shift in priorities to paying dividends over paying debt.

Cedar Fair opposes that proposal and a second one requiring that the company's board chairman position be split from the CEO position, filled by an independent candidate who hadn't worked for the company or served on the board. The move would mean CEO Dick Kinzel could not continue to also serve as chairman.

On this issue, Glass Lewis, Proxy Governance, and ISS weighed in favor, against the wishes of Cedar Fair and in support of the Q Investment proposal.

Separate from the proxy fight, Cedar Fair said this week its 2010 attendance at its parks in the United States and Canada coasted up 8 percent to 22.8 million patrons.

The Sandusky company said the increase was 1.7 million patrons. It did not disclose attendance for each park, but said that it was up 4 percent to 12.7 million for its northern parks, including Cedar Point and Kings Island near Cincinnati; up 18 percent to 4.8 million for its southern parks, and up 10 percent 5.3 million at its western parks.

The gains last year, attributed in part to better season pass and group ticket sales, basically recouped the losses the firm had in 2009, in the grip of the recession.

However, average per-patron spending in its parks last year decreased by 1 percent, the same amount as in 2009.

It did not disclose the per-person spending figure. It also did not release its per-person gain or loss for spending at its hotels, which dropped 7 percent in 2009.

Its fourth-quarter 2010 and annual financial performance will be disclosed Feb. 15.

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