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Cedar Fair to Ink Deal Today for Water Park

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ohio company that owns Knott’s Berry Farm and the Buena Park Hotel said that it expects to complete its purchase today of White Water Canyon, a water park in San Diego County, for $11.5 million.

Cedar Fair LP will trade in White Water’s Western motif for a beach theme, renaming the Chula Vista park Knott’s Soak City USA. It shares the Soak City name with a $25-million water park Cedar Fair is building next to Knott’s in Buena Park and another situated beside Cedar Point, the chain’s flagship amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.

Egged on by Wall Street, Cedar Fair is expanding its holdings, which include four amusement parks in the East and Midwest. Its national competitors include Premier Parks Inc., whose many acquisitions include Magic Mountain in Valencia and other Six Flags parks.

Locally, Walt Disney Co. will open a second park in Anaheim in 2001, threatening to steal business from Knott’s but also providing potential new customers by bringing tourists to the area.

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The amusement park industry has stagnated lately, leaving Knott’s attendance flat at about 3.5 million a year and other Cedar Fair parks flat to lower.

Stand-alone water parks like White Water “are a good growth opportunity,” especially if they can be marketed jointly with other Cedar Fair properties, Knott’s general manager Jack Falfas said.

Falfas and his staff will manage the Chula Vista water park from Buena Park to save money on back-office operations. He said he hopes to get a boost at the gate by advertising and marketing the two water parks together, particularly with promotional partnerships with big retailers.

“We should get better awareness and business for both parks in the end,” he said.

Falfas said final details of the water park purchase were being worked out and the agreement would be signed today before a morning news conference.

The water parks in Buena Park and Chula Vista will operate from May through September. A full-priced adult admission probably will be $19.95, down from $21 at newly acquired White Water Canyon, Falfas said.

Knott’s was family-owned until Cedar Fair bought it for $245 million in December 1997. It since has added two major thrill rides, Supreme Scream and GhostRider, and is building a third, a giant water ride called Perilous Plunge, for next summer. By that time, the separate Soak City water park should be completed, as should the Buena Park Hotel overhaul as a Radisson resort.

In Chula Vista, attractions will be given names such as La Jolla Falls, Palisades Plunge and Solana Storm Watch Tower. Falfas said Cedar Fair will spend $2 million on improvements, adding a six-passenger raft ride called Coronado Express and a kitchen to allow the company to cater events.

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White Water Canyon, a 33-acre park, currently has 20 attractions and comes with 32 acres of adjacent land for future expansion. Opened in 1997, it fell into bankruptcy a year later. Cedar Fair is buying it from Fremont Investment & Loan of Anaheim, which foreclosed on a loan to the park’s developers.

Cedar Fair partnership units closed Monday at $19 on the New York Stock Exchange, down 31 cents on the day and 35% below its high of $29.44 in May 1998.


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