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Cedar Fair Acquires Land Beneath California's Great America
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Cedar Fair Entertainment is no longer a lease holder but a land owner when it comes to California's Great America theme park in Santa Clara, Calif.  Citing a “once in a generation opportunity,” the theme park operator is acquiring the land for $150 million dollars, an amount it financed through long term borrowing.

Cedar Fair opened the park in 1976, and has been leasing the land it stands on from the city of Santa Clara. 

Company president and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman, describes the purchase as a way to “solidify our control of 112 acres in the heart of Santa Clara. The transaction underscores our long-term commitment to enhancing and expanding California's Great America.”

With the future of the park thus ensured, Northern California residents and visitors nationwide will find this family-friendly park a continued, growing attraction. 
It's a strong financial period for Cedar Fair to acquire the land. 2018 financial results were bright, and Zimmerman stated said that Cedar Fair would be seeking to broaden guest experiences at their parks through “immersive new entertainment offerings.” He noted that the year ended strongly, with the park “achieving new highs in attendance and net revenues for both the fourth quarter and full year.”

Among Cedar Fair's successes were expanded Halloween Haunt and WinterFest celebrations, and enhanced sales of advance purchases of park admission packages. 

By purchasing the land beneath California's Great America, the park is poised for expansion.

The Santa Clara City Council approved agreements finalizing the sale with the Ohio-based Cedar Fair, which owns 13 amusement and water parks across the country including King's Dominion and Carowinds.

The city also approved a master plan for the park from Cedar Fair looking at expanded hours and a new entertainment district to be developed outside park gates. 

Cedar Fair's land-buying achievement was in part due to the fact that the city of Santa Clara was forced to sell the property, having purchased it in 1985 with money from its former redevelopment agency. A state law has dissolved redevelopment agencies statewide.

Redevelopment agencies take a part of property tax money that would have otherwise been divided between local government agencies including schools, the county and special districts, and use it instead to improve blighted areas. Santa Clara's redevelopment agency purchased several properties near the theme park, including the site of Levi's Stadium and convention center.

Once the state dissolved such redevelopment agencies in 2011, cities were forced to sell their assets and properties to pay off their existing debt. Because of that, Santa Clara decided to sell its ownership of the Great America property to Cedar Fair. The decision was viewed as a win/win by both sides. 

While Cedar Fair's lease on the park was not set to expire before 2074, rumors had been flying that another buyer would come along for the park, and even potentially plan to change the use of the property. A loss of the theme park would hardly be beneficial to Santa Clara, and in approving the sale to Cedar Fair they have precluded that possibility. 

Mayor Lisa Gillmor asserts that “It's great we're going to be able to retain a theme park here in Santa Clara.” She adds that “I think the outcome is going to be very beneficial to Santa Clara.”

Cedar Fair had leased the land from Santa Clara since 1989. The terms of that lease provided the revenue to operate the city's main parking lot there as well as an electronic billboard.

The city took bids on the property last year, but ultimately went with Cedar Fair.

Ashkenazy Acquisition which owns residential buildings, hotels and shopping malls in its portfolio was the bidder that submitted the highest bid, at $158 million. However, the city and that bidder could not reach an agreement over the terms of the sale, specifically concerning the long-term use of the city parking lot. That sticking point paved the way for Cedar Fair. 

As part of the existing lease that Cedar Fair held, the company had the right to match the highest offer on the property. They exercised that option. 

As part of the now-approved sale, the city will transfer the billboard they retained to Great America and come up with a new agreement for use of the city parking lot.

The lease generates about $5.3 million annually in fixed rent, plus an additional rent amount, which this past fiscal year was estimated at $1.18 million for the city. This latter figure is based on a percentage of revenue generated by the park, and it is money that the city places toward paying off redevelopment agency debts.

With the money used to originally purchase the land coming from the city's former redevelopment agency, sale proceeds will be distributed among various taxing government agencies; the city will receive a share of that money, approximately 10 percent. The dollar figure will be about $15 million.

While Santa Clara city council members call the dissolution of the redevelopment agency a long and difficult process, the sale to Cedar Fair is viewed as the best possible outcome for both the city and the park lease holder. 

The deal for the land continues the successful turn that the park itself has made since Cedar Fair decided not to sell the park in 2011. Since that time, Cedar Fair has made a strong commitment to the park, opening new rides and attractions including new roller coasters and physical improvements to the park's infrastructure. Great America's newest thrill ride, the RailBlazer, takes riders up to  a height of 106 feet before taking them down again at a 90-degree angle. The ride travels up to 52 miles per hour and offers three inversions and a zero-gravity roll.  2019 park passes range from $59.99 up to $218, with the latter price allowing for admission to Cedar Fair parks nationwide.
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