Local economy looks for fallout from Cedar Fair sale

SANDUSKY There are plenty of good reasons to hope Apollo Global Management's acquisition of Cedar Fa
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

There are plenty of good reasons to hope Apollo Global Management's acquisition of Cedar Fair works out well for the company -- maybe even more than a billion reasons.

It's estimated that in 2007, tourism generated $1.1 billion of business in Erie County, said Joan Van Offeren, executive director of Lake Erie Shores and Islands East, Erie County's visitor and convention bureau.

Those numbers help to explain why many residents want Cedar Point to fair well under new ownership.

On Wednesday, Cedar Fair announced Apollo Global Management agreed to buy Cedar Fair for $2.4 billion. The deal is subject to a two-thirds approval by Cedar Fair's unitholders, who are being offered $11.50 per unit.

Cedar Fair does not release attendance numbers for Cedar Point, but Van Offeren said the park draws an estimated 3 million visitors each year.

Although not all tourism in Erie County is generated by Cedar Point, the amusement park established Sandusky as a tourism mecca.

"That gives us a strong location," Van Offeren said, adding that tourism supports one in every four private sector jobs in the county. "Why did other development come to Sandusky? As somebody said, do you think Kalahari would have moved to Clyde?"

Figures also show that tax income generated directly by Cedar Point are important to Sandusky and its schools.

Sandusky collected about $2.4 million in admissions taxes through November this year. More than 99 percent of those taxes come from tickets sold for admission to Cedar Point.

Cedar Point and Cedar Fair paid $2,181,086 in property taxes in 2008, with 76 percent of that going to Sandusky Schools, said Erie County auditor Tom Paul. The market value of Cedar Fair's real estate holdings is $110,101,770.

Cedar Fair does not release its complete annual payroll, but it employs 65 to 70 people who work at the corporate headquarters in Sandusky and pay income taxes to the city.

Among those are five top corporate earners who made in excess of $6.1 million in 2008 when combining salaries and bonuses. These include Kinzel, who drew $2.96 million including his $1.28 million bonus that year. City income taxes on these earners alone is upwards of $61,000 per year.

In addition, Cedar Point has 275 permanent, year-round employees and hires about 5,000 seasonal employees for the summer tourism season, said Robin Innes, a spokesman for Cedar Point. Its top earner is John Hildebrandt, vice president and general manager of Cedar Point, who earned $348,954 in 2006.

Considering property taxes these individuals pay on their homes, the county rakes in another $52,000 a year.

But such figures only tell part of the story.

Much of the other economic activity and tax income in Erie County is generated by Cedar Point, even if it isn't produced directly by the amusement park.

Erie County boasts nearly 6,000 hotel rooms, Van Offeren said. Those numbers do not include bed and breakfasts and camping sites. Cedar Point generates most of the demand for those hotels and nearby restaurants.

All of those hotels, and the other commercial businesses supported by the tourist trade, pay property taxes and generate other income for the county, Paul said.

Bed taxes from Cedar Point hotels and other hotels are an important source of revenue for Sandusky. They support other local governments such as Perkins Township and the visitor bureau, which uses the money to market Erie County as a tourist attraction.

Bed taxes for 2009 produced about $949,000 for Sandusky through November, according to a city report. In better years, Perkins Township brought in $750,000 in bed taxes.

Altogether the city and county benefit from at least $5 million each year in admissions, property and income taxes thanks to the park and its headquarters. This conservative estimate doesn't include sales or bed taxes, which are heavily influenced by Cedar Point's existence.